Here’s more info. Thanks to Asko for the heads-up!
Last week was skiing break for my kids. I couldn’t find anywhere good to stay in the mountains, so we didn’t go off on holiday. Here’s what we did for fun instead.
- Dinner at the home of a Chinese friend. It was one of those no hablar parties that spouses in multi-ethnic marriages know all about. The food was great and everybody there except me spoke Mandarin – loudly and incessantly. I’ve never minded much: this time I had brought a book and there was a computer to play with.
- Birthday party at the home of an Iranian friend. He used to be a death-metal kid. Now he’s a pro-democracy Persian patriot. Everybody wore green.
- Watched the new Alice in Wonderland movie in 3D and in the country’s largest movie theatre. The kids loved it. I didn’t. Instead of Carroll’s original bad acid trip with language games they’ve made it into a slightly sappy Narnia thing where the characters have names and relationships and there’s even a fixed geography. But the lead actress does a fine job and is nice to look at.
- Karaoke night: my kids wowed all the grown-ups with their skillz. Did you know that there’s a Chinese expression for someone who won’t share the mike? Mai ba, “Microphone Tyrant”. All the Beatles songs were accompanied by embarrassing footage of a look-alike band. In order to believe that they really look alike, you have to think that all European males look the same.
- Went downhill skiing at the towering old Flottsbro landfill. It’s just across the lake from Ãlvesta, in plain view of where I practiced fieldwalking back in ’08. For skiing, I still use the gear my parents gave me in 1988. Need to sharpen the edges.
- Went skating and cross-country skiing.
- Got beaten twice at Yspahan and once at Settlers of Catan by my buddy Oscar. That’ll teach me to take up with strange men that I meet at on-line discussion forums about, ah, shall we say… specialised pastimes.
- Juniorette went with the neighbours and watched The Princess and the Frog, and Grandma took her to the Museum of Nordic Culture.
The skiing break then ended on a non-fun note when the entire Rundkvist family was laid low by a calicivirus on Sunday.
From Birmingham art students Tanya Mircheva and Mihaela Calin, a clip about office-job boredom.
My wife and I watched the 2004 biopic Kinsey last night, about ground-breaking sexologist Alfred Kinsey. Good movie, good acting, interesting theme. And there’s an added perk for fans of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. To the extent that the Kinsey movie has a villain, it’s Alfred Kinsey’s colleague, Thurman Rice. Professor Rice is an old-school sex-hostile sex educator who shows the class horrific slides of syphilis sufferers and preaches abstinence. And who plays this buffoonish prig of a character? Why, Frank N. Furter himself, the pansexual mad scientist from the planet Transsexual in the galaxy Transylvania — Tim Curry. Excellent casting!
A few years ago my friend David the Psychonaut gave me an mp3 file with the greatest song, “Jan Pehechan-Ho” by Mohammed Rafi. And now another friend, Tanya the Cosmopolite, links to the song’s over-the top Bollywood dance number, straight from the 1965 film Gumnaam. Awesome! (As per standard Bollywood procedure, Rafi himself isn’t in the film.)
When I was offered a review copy of the new documentary film 10 Yards Fantasy Football, I replied, “No use sending that to a guy with no interest either in real nor imaginary football. But please do send me your award-winning 2006 Segway documentary road movie, 10 MPH Seattle to Boston!”. Film makers Hunter Weeks and Josh Caldwell kindly decided to send me both films, and it turned out I was right. I liked 10 MPH with its beautiful landscape footage and charming roadside interviews. It has my recommendation, for what that’s worth to a movie that’s already won the award for best documentary at numerous festivals.
10 Yards, however, is IMHO strictly for those tens of millions of people who take an interest in American football. I understood little of it, and while I can see the same fine cinematic craftsmanship here as in 10 MPH, I quickly got bored with the content.
Fantasy football is a huge fan pastime where players assemble imaginary teams at the start of the football season, each made up of actual players scattered across many actual teams. Then you follow your players game by game and add up their accomplishments according to certain scoring rules. Thus, at the end of the season, your fantasy team may win its fantasy league. Along the way you make friends with the other fantasy football managers. Seems like a perfectly reasonable hobby to someone like myself, who likes to play boardgames and has hunted down hundreds of tupperware boxes under stones in the woods using his GPS navigator. But it’s not my hobby. More importantly, it’s a completely non-visual hobby.
I don’t know if the film makers were aiming to reach a non-football-literate audience with this film. In 10 MPH, we see them do something pretty grandiose that they have never done before: they ride a slow vehicle across the US on small back roads where there is a lot to see. Here, instead, we see them engage in a rather mundane hobby that’s been part of their lives for years.
Weeks and Caldwell are good at what they do. For their next project, I hope they will once more take on a subject that is unfamiliar to them and has some level of wider appeal. I have no doubt that they will then be able to make another film as fine as 10 MPH.
Back in July I panned the History Channel’s documentary on the peopling of North America, Journey to 10,000 BC. Their publicist then sent me a recent re-issue of a 2005 film about adventurous archaeologists, The Real Tomb Hunters — Snakes, Curses and Booby Traps. Here are my impressions of that picture.
Real Tomb Hunters, though not a very good documentary, is far better than Journey to 10,000 BC. This is because a) it doesn’t rely on cheezy computer animation, b) it aims much lower, intending only to be exciting, not to present any research results or debates. We get to follow a number of archaeologists through the history of the discipline who have done adventurous fieldwork in exotic locales. (A palaeontologist is also slipped in without special comment. I guess a fossil bed is a kind of tomb if you’re willing to stretch it…)
The film is good edutainment, but has a number of flaws. Most seriously, though the team has been able to travel around the world, they haven’t had enough time on each location, so the same few clips are repeated endlessly and we get a lot of unprovenanced archive footage that also tends to get repeated. Every time the narrator mentions a snake we see the same clip.
Stylistically, the viewer soon tires of the ominous music that is constantly playing in the background, and the narrator sounds like he’s trying to sell something rather than tell a story. In a documentary where almost all the talking heads are men, a female narrator would have provided balance.
For some rousing yarns about real archaeologists hacking through the jungle, crawling into ancient tombs and getting shot at by the militia, the film is not bad at all. But if your main interest is things that happened before about AD 1900, this film is not for you.
John Ajvide Lindqvist’s 2004 debut novel LÃ¥t den rÃ¤tte komma in came as a pleasant surprise. From a stand-up comedian of respectable but unremarkable standing, suddenly we had this excellent vampire novel set in a staid Stockholm suburb in 1982 — a time and a place I personally know quite well.
The novel is about adolescent friendship set against a thematic backdrop of forbidden thirst: the young vampire Eli craves blood, his paedophile handyman lusts for children, and the worn drunks upon whom they prey convene around their thirst for alcohol — and friendship. There are a few scenes of horror-flick grotesquerie (when were you last attacked by a brain-dead paedophile vampire zombie, Dear Reader?), but all in all it is a novel of great finesse.
Of this fine book has now come a similary fine film, directed by Thomas Alfredsson using a script by Lindqvist himself. The photography is top tier, unabashedly arty, the pacing slow, the set design understated but solidly period. The weight of the film rests squarely on the shoulders of two fine young actors, though I was confused to find that one of them has had her lines dubbed by a third actor. This is a vampire movie in the style of Kay Pollak, gory and beautiful and sad, another step in the inexorable mainstreaming and artification of genre culture. Look for it at your art house, not at a gorefest convention.
Those into Swedish pop music will be intrigued to hear a previously unknown Gyllene Tider song of unmistakable early 80s vintage played in the film. As I understand things, what we are actually hearing is a new track recorded by Per Gessle (of Roxette fame) in pitch-perfect imitation of his old band!
When was the last time you saw the Muppets perform “Mahna mahna”?