Favourite Current Directors

I’ve been watching more movies in recent years, mostly at festivals and at home. And I’ve been rating them on IMDB since August of 2016. Now I have a dataset of 223 movie ratings: 40 a year on average. I was surprised to find that of the movies I’ve rated, 43% got at least 8 out of 10. I thought I was much more lukewarm about movies.

One thing I haven’t paid much attention to is the directors. It occurred to me that maybe I should identify some new favourite ones. This was not easy: looking at the 97 movies from 2002 or later that I’ve given high grades, in most cases I’ve only liked a single one by each director. But I did find five recurring names.

  • Neill Blomkamp (b. 1979). District 9, Chappie. Most recent movie 2021.
  • Kenneth Branagh (b. 1960). All Is True, Belfast. Most recent movie 2022.
  • Duncan Jones (b. 1971). Moon, Source Code. Most recent movie 2018.
  • Paweł Pawlikowski (b. 1957). Ida, Cold War. Most recent movie 2018.
  • Peter Strickland (b. 1973). Duke of Burgundy, In Fabric. Most recent movie 2022.

I’m a white 50-y-o man. Turns out that though my taste in films is pretty wide and eclectic, the few current directors that have repeatedly struck a chord with me are white men between 43 and 65. Perhaps not all that surprising.

Stockholm International Film Festival 2021 & Monsters of Film 2021

First Date

As with all other kinds of outings and entertainments, I’ve been particularly keen on going into town for film festivals during this post-vaccination autumn. I watched four films at the genre festival Monsters of Film two months ago and 13 at the much bigger Stockholm International that ended this weekend: 17 movies in one festival season, revisiting my personal record.

Unless noted otherwise, all the movies are from this year and haven’t seen theatrical release yet. Six get my particular recommendation:

  • Delicatessen (1991). Dark, grotesque, surreal comedy about post-apocalyptic survival cannibalism.
  • Trollhunter (2010). Film school students start following what seems to be a bear poacher but find out that the man works for the Norwegian State Clandestine Troll Management Agency.
  • Madres Paralelas / Parallel Mothers. Complicated motherhood, friendship and love interleave against the background of Spain’s civil war memories. With fairly realistic mass grave excavation!
  • First Date. Teen buys crappy old car to go on a first date. But there is something hidden in it that some stupid and desperate people are ready to do anything to get. Violent slapstick chaos ensues. One refreshing aspect of this film is that it has several people of colour in main and supporting roles, but it is not about race relations.
  • Flag Day. Growing up with, or more often without, a criminal mythomaniac dad who just can’t help himself.
  • Belfast. The start of the Troubles as seen by a nine-year-old.

Eight were OK:

  • Les Olympiades, Paris 13e. Young attractive Parisians have complicated love life. No plot. Lots of close-ups of fucking. (Cf. that I said two years ago about Tu mérites un amour/ You Deserve A Lover: “Young attractive Parisian has complicated love life. No plot. Lots of close-ups of kissing.)
  • Saloum. African mercenaries, former child soldiers, eco-tourism and a very long monster fight.
  • Ich bin dein Mensch / I’m your man. Single 40-something academic tries out a tailor-made robot boyfriend.
  • Old Henry. Outlaw gang attacks farm to retrieve loot without stopping to consider that the short oldish farmer might have had a prior career. Quite a violent one, in fact.
  • The Power of the Dog. Jealousy, sibling rivalry and repressed sexuality on a ranch in 1920s Montana.
  • Libertad. The Costa del Sol, Spanish bourgeoisie with hired help from Colombia, mothers and daughters, adolescence and Alzheimer, men are secondary characters. Women, bring your moms and daughters to this movie.
  • Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror. Long comprehensive documentary. I was impressed by the inclusion of clips from obscure 1970s UK children’s TV.
  • The Wicker Man (1973). Policeman goes to remote Scottish island to seek a missing child, discovers neo-Pagan sex cult. Lots of gratuitous breasts and Golden Bough references. Grade: OK.

I only watched one of the movies that got awards at SIFF. That is, I left half an hour into it from boredom. None of the other ones that got prizes seemed at all attractive to me. I’m strictly at that festival for movies that are not in the jury’s taste. I left the following three. All suffer from slow pacing and weak dialogue:

  • Feathers. Good surreal setup with poor Egyptian family whose dominant paterfamilias is accidentally turned into a chicken does not pay off due to slow pacing and depressing locales.
  • Rien à foutre / Zero Fucks Given. Young pretty flight attendant leads pointless life.
  • A Chiara. Teen bourgeois girls in Sicily, something about the mafia. Six years ago I was equally bored by the director’s Mediterranea.

Here are my capsule reviews from the 2020 Stockholm International Film Festival.

Stockholm International Film Festival 2020

Gaza Mon Amour

In this plague year, there are few public events and the ones organised have few seats. But I have managed to see nine festival movies this season, eight at the Stockholm International and one at Asiatiska Filmfestivalen. All except two are from this year and haven’t seen theatrical release yet.

I cycled into town for almost all of the screenings to avoid public transport. Didn’t avail myself of the streaming options. I might have if there had been the normal number of films at SIFF this year.

Four films get my special recommendation:

  • Gaza Mon Amour. 60ish bachelor fisherman loves the widow in the ladies fashion store. While working up the courage to approach her, he catches an Archaic statue of Apollo in his net one morning. Quietly funny about shy greying love.
  • Love Affair(s). You know how in the cliché French movie everybody is super attractive and they alternate between telling each other about their love lives and cheating on their partners left and right? This is that movie, and quite well executed too.
  • The Last Shift. Old white man instructs young black man who is taking over his dead-end fast food job. Disillusioned buddy movie about race and poverty in small town Michigan.
  • Pinocchio (2019). Lavish and respectful adaptation of the children’s classic with ace Italian actors and tastefully employed digital effects.

Two were OK:

  • The Truffle Hunters. Impressionist documentary about elderly truffle hunters in the Piedmont of Northern Italy. Beautifully staged and shot in Baroque chiaroscuro, but it does kind of go on and on about truffles.
  • Nine Days. Souls are auditioned for the chance of being born. The guy who leads the auditions and does the selection is unhappy, then performs Whitman.

And I disliked three feelbad movies so badly that I left or wanted to leave after half an hour:

  • House of Hummingbird (2018). Young Korean teen girl goes through nearly unremitting woes at a glacial pace.
  • Surge. Repressed young airport security guard quietly going insane. Stressful and awkward.
  • Black Bear. Much awkwardness. Drunk people arguing about feminism.

Here’s my capsule reviews from the 2019 Stockholm International Film Festival.

Stockholm Film Festival 2019

gml
Give Me Liberty

Being contracted to do translation work during November and December I’m free to set my own work schedule, and so I have set a new record for myself in the number of films I saw at the Stockholm Film Festival this year: twelve feature films and one shorts package. All are from 2019 and had their Swedish premières at the festival. None was bad or boring, and three get my special recommendation:

  • Bull. Black rodeo, Oxycontin, rural Southern poverty, teenage anger, absent parents, a tentative replacement dad.
  • Give Me Liberty. Young Russian American man drives for a disabled people’s bus service but keeps getting sidetracked by various other needy people. Noisy confusing warm-hearted multicultural story.
  • Perdrix / The Bare Necessity. Absurdist rom com with militant nudists, bored policemen, maghrebois WW2 reenactors in the Vosges and a family that is just itching to get disrupted.

And nine features plus the shorts programme were all well worth watching:

  • Alice et Le Maire / Alice and the Mayor. Bright young Lit PhD becomes staffer and adviser to troubled Social Democrat mayor of Lyon.
  • The Art of Self-Defence. After getting violently mugged, a wimpy guy joins a cult-like karate dojo. Movie has severe tonal issues: not a very funny parody, not a scary horror story, not realistic enough by far to grip you. Lead actor good though.
  • Bait. Old-school but not old Cornish fisherman watches the touristification of his village with disgust. Interesting lo-fi b/w cinematography and secondarily applied studio sound.
  • Colour Out Of Space. A competent big-budget movie version of the story H.P. Lovecraft considered his best. A meteorite hits a farm, plants and animals mutate, everybody goes nuts, the area is eventually reduced to prismatic ashes.
  • Esto no es Berlín / This Is Not Berlin. Teenage boys discover drugs, bisexuality and avant-garde art in 1986 Mexico City. Another nostalgic look back at somebody’s coming of age.
  • La femme de mon frère / A Brother’s Love (2019). Neurotic political philosopher finishes her PhD and ends up jobless and sleeping on her brother’s couch in Quebec. He gets involved with the doctor who gives her an abortion and she starts falling apart.
  • La Gomera / Whistlers. Romanian-Spanish police thriller about missing drug money. Incomprehensible motivations, gratuitous pornography, gratuitous lessons in the Canary Islanders’ whistling language on location, an oldish charmless male lead.
  • Le Miracle du Saint Inconnu / The Unknown Saint. Moroccan robber comes out of jail only to find that a shrine has been built on the rural spot where he buried the loot. Beautiful imagery, quietly funny, pretty slow.
  • Tu mérites un amour/ You Deserve A Lover. Young attractive Parisian has complicated love life. No plot. Lots of close-ups of kissing.

I also saw five movies at the 2019 Monsters of Film festival a few weeks ago, and here’s my capsule reviews from the 2018 Stockholm Film Festival.

Monsters of Film 2019

mohamed
Fatma Mohamed is marvellous as the eerie fashion shop clerk of In Fabric.

Monsters of Film is an annual genre film festival in Stockholm that started in 2012. I went in 2015, and then managed to come back this year when I’ve found myself with a lot of time on my hands. I saw five feature films and a shorts compilation in less than a week. Unexpectedly, one of the movies went straight into the select list of my all-time favourites!

  • In Fabric (2018). About a cursed dress, a depraved fashion store and their victims. Grade: Fucking Amazing! It’s scary, funny, sensual, sexy, surreal and yet relatable. I’m going to seek out more of Peter Strickland’s films!

Three of the feature films and the shorts block were also very good:

  • Code 8 (2019). Mutant superheroes are 2nd class citizens in a city with blanket surveillance and militarized policing. Grade: Great! This is the BIG scifi movie of 2019/20!
  • Extra Ordinary (2019). Driving school instructor and also exorcist in a small Irish town clashes with aging pop star and also black magician in this horror comedy. Grade: Good!
  • Achoura (2018). Morocco’s first big-budget horror film. Four childhood friends reconvene to fight dimly remembered supernatural horror. Good acting, cinematography, found sets, fx; confusing and overpopulated first act, not clear who the main characters are. Grade: Good!

And finally one that is better than expected given the era and genre in which it was made:

  • Night of the Demon (1957). American psychologist comes to England for a conference and to help investigate a Satanic cult. His scientific skepticism soon frays. This film is based on a so-so M.R. James story and is referenced in the Rocky Horror Picture Show’s opening song. Grade: OK, would have enjoyed it more without the ridiculously bombastic score.

Stockholm Film Festival 2018

prospect
Prospect

I discovered film festivals in 2014, but I didn’t go to one last year because I like my evenings at home and I was working full time at the National Archives then. This year I’ve been able to go to the Stockholm International Film Festival thanks to the telecommuting nature of my current job. But I do spend two days a week in Linköping, and the upcoming final weekend of the festival will coincide with a boardgaming retreat, so I only managed to see 7½ films this year.

My festival M.O. is to first decide when I can see some films, and then watch whatever is on at that time and seems reasonably interesting. Hardly ever do I watch more than two movies on one day, or it becomes a chore. This way I caught three really good ones:

  • Cold War / Zimna Wojna. Stormy intermittent love affair between two Polish musicians at home and in exile 1949-64. Pretty monochrome photography.
  • Prospect. Low-budget scifi about bio-mineral prospecting on a lawless jungle planet. Strong female teen lead. Way better than most big budget scifi. Would be even better if 15 mins of slack were cut. Take your lower teen kids to this one!
  • The Man Who Feels No Pain / Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota. Indian action comedy about a boy who grows up sheltered because of an innate inability to sense pain – and is educated by his grandfather by means of 80s martial arts movies. Smart and funny!

And some OK ones:

  • Ex-shaman / Ex-pajé. Slow, largely wordless, beautifully shot semi-documentary about a former village shaman in the Amazon who is now a Pentecostal church warden.
  • Girls of the Sun / Les filles du soleil. Traumatised French journalist follows a unit of Kurdish former sex slaves into urban skirmishes against the Daesh. Violent and beautiful. Golshifteh Farahani, oh man…
  • EXT. Night. A young film director, a vivacious prostitute and an old cab driver spend a confused night on the town together in Cairo. Engaging characters, vapid dialogue, not much by way of plot.
  • The Trouble With You / En liberté!. French romantic comedy about a mentally scarred ex-con and the widow of the crooked cop who put him in jail on false charges.

And one that I left, bored and sleepy, after half an hour:

  • Manta Ray / Kraben rahu. Supposedly about a Thai fisherman and Rohingya refugees, though it was hard to tell. Slow, pretty, no dialogue, no action…

Here’s what I saw at festivals in 2014, 2015 SIFF, 2015 MIF and 2016.

Stockholm Film Festival 2016

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A Decent Woman / Los decentes

I watched ten films at the 2014 festival, fourteen last year (at two festivals back to back), and this year I managed ten again. I had bought tickets for fourteen, but stuff got in the way: a huge blizzard that knocked out public transport, subtitles disappearing, and a call to marital duty.

The people who book movies for this festival really know what they’re doing. Half of the ones I saw get my special recommendation:

  • Small Town Curtains / Småstad. Five middle-aged siblings play five middle-aged siblings dealing with the death of their father. In Vadstena. In a broad Östergötland dialect. With liberal use of the family’s old home movies. I smiled and cried and loved this movie. This is the film about Sweden that I want foreigners to see!
  • A Decent Woman / Los decentes. Love-starved and inhibited woman gets a job as a housemaid in a sterile, lifeless, affluent gated community. Discovers that across the fence is a free-love commune where people laze about nude in the sun all day giving each other intimate massages in a paradisiacal setting. She promptly joins and begins commuting between the two worlds. Delightfully strange film.
  • Fiore. Young love between inmates of an Italian juvenile detention centre.
  • Fritz Lang. Demonic movie director becomes obsessed with serial killer and faces his own inner darkness.
  • American Anarchist. Documentary about the infamous bomb manual The Anarchist Cookbook, largely consisting of extended interviews at 65 with the man who wrote it aged 19.

Four were well worth watching:

  • Malaria. Meandering tale of teenage runaways in Teheran who make friends with a bumbling feckless musician. So focused on smartphones that it looks like a commercial at times. Fine snippets of life in contemporary urban Iran, but fairly plotless. Nobody has believable motivation.
  • SHOT! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock. Rock celebrity-strewn portrait of prolific photographer Mick Rock and his oeuvre. Interesting to folks like me who like 70s UK/US music. Probably irrelevant to others, who can better enjoy the pictures in a gallery or book.
  • Baden Baden. Eventless study of a young woman’s relationships with the people around her over a few weeks as she renovates the bathroom of her dear hospitalised grandmother.
  • All These Sleepless Nights. Entire film is a string of clips from indoor and outdoor nights on the town among young Warsawites. All the dialogue is drunk and/or stoned. Strangely interesting despite these handicaps.

And only in one case would I suggest that you give it a miss:

  • The Wedding Ring. Naïvist movie about a lovesick young noblewoman in Niger. Many beautiful shots but slow, plotless and amateurishly acted.

The movie that I left after 20 mins when the subtitles cut out looked really promising: Kills On Wheels, about Hungarian contract killers in wheel chairs.

Weekend Fun

Space Wale
Space Whale

The past two weekends were a lot of fun.

  • The Royal Technical College’s orchestra and several combined student choirs from Sweden and Finland performed Giuseppe Verdi’s 1874 Requiem, an intricate and operatic farewell to fellow composer Gioachino Rossini and poet Alessandro Manzoni.

    Hallwyl House: carving in the doorway between the ladies' drawing room and the Golden Salon.
    Hallwyl House: carving in the doorway between the ladies’ drawing room and the Golden Salon.
  • Gig with King Khan and the Shrines. Imagine a tall, psychedelic, semi-nude, portly, Canadian Wilson Pickett of Indian extraction belting out soul rock with a band consisting of extremely enthusiastic Germans. First time I’ve seen a horn section playing to a microphone stuck down the front of the lead singer’s hot pants.
  • Played Elfenland and Plato 3000.
  • Watched the 1955 Brando-Simmons-Sinatra-Blaine movie version of the 1950 musical Guys and Dolls. Impressed by Brando, didn’t know he could sing. Ugly sets and boring dialogue though. The reason that we watched it was that Jrette is playing Nicely-Nicely Johnson in an upcoming school production. Made me want to read some Damon Runyon.
  • Gig organised by Undergången with three unsigned Swedish psych acts. Space Whale are four very young and very strong musicians with excellent songs. They really blew me away! Besvärjelsen are a heavier and more metal-oriented quintet that I would really like to hear studio work from. And the Magic Jove trio are basically Cream. Extremely proficient musicians!
  • Hallwyl House: Swedish logging magnate’s daughter marries Swiss count and has some of 1890s Stockholm’s best architects and artists build them a town palace, no expenses spared, which she proceeds to fill with Early Modern art and craft objects. All of this remains in place and is now a museum, large parts of which is free of charge, and which is located a short walk from the Central Station.

King Khan
King Khan

Notes on the new Star Wars movie

Vague and sweeping spoilers below.

The Force Awakens is fully on a level with the original three films, as far as I remember them. These are four good scifi action movies. The new one is actually better in being much more inclusive of women and non-Europid people. It’s quite a loving re-visit to the original material.

My main complaints with the new one are that

  • The tempo is too uniform and too high
  • No time seems to pass between scenes, with the main characters never even having a change of clothes
  • People need no training to operate star ships and military weaponry
  • The story is a clear and intentional repeat of A New Hope
  • It reintroduces the exact threat that the three original movies dealt with, obviating the entire struggle there. Cf. Sauron showing up and making trouble long after Morgoth got tossed into the Timeless Void.