Friday 31 December 2021

Happy New Year 2022


Happy New Year 2022

Again, we are here, on the last day of the year and again we are saying goodbye to a year that will not be missed. Just as we thought the pandemic was over, heck we even discarded use of masks altogether, it is coming back big time and Denmark is now officially the most infected country in Europe (with a large margin!) and possibly the world. Well, that is just this year in a nutshell.

We started doing online training at the office and that has become so popular that I have done little else since summer. Nobody is going anywhere anymore. For a guy like me who used to travel 7-10 times per year, this is a big change and very sad too.

Having said that, I am grateful that I have lost no one in the family and those who got the virus, got through it easy enough or at least survived. I do hope we are soon through this.

As usual on this day I take stock on what happened on my blogs in the past year and, well, that is mostly business as usual.

I did a total of 59 movie reviews in 2021, which is the same as I did last year. Clearly this is my level of pacing. Of these 49 were List movies and 10 were off-List. This took me from 1972 to 1975. The most interesting event for me being the discovery of the Cinemateket in Copenhagen, which appears to have anything ever released in Denmark. Not the last time I will use that. In case anyone of the staff read this, thank you for kind assistance.  Otherwise, I will not point out anything special from this period except that I am listening to an awful lot of groovy seventies music these days.

On my book blog I have reviewed 11 books in 2021 which is great considering my target is a mere 5 books per year. This has taken me from The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) to Caleb Williams (1794), which is a neat span of years. The most remarkable thing is how international the List has become with two German books, five French, one Chinese and three British books. I like that the List editors has made this a list of world literature and not just English language books.

I wish all my readers a happy and healthy new year and may the new year bring better times to all.

And remember, as legendary Danish movie critic Ole Michelsen used to say on sign-out: “ Movies should be watched in the cinema”. Cannot wait for them to open again…

Tuesday 28 December 2021

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)


Monty Python og de skøre riddere

It is the Christmas vacation and what is better than to sit down with the family and watch classical movies. Lo and behold, the next movie on the List is “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and what movie could be better for the purpose. My son and I had an excellent time rewatching this household classic.

Usually, going through the List, if I am not watching a movie for the first time, it is at least decades since I watched them last. Not so with “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. I have completely lost count of the number of times I have watched this one and even my eleven-year-old son has by now watched it several times. The jokes are still great although I know them by heart, and it is great to see the impact they have on a child who is less jaded than me. “You must find the tallest tree in the forest and cut it down… with a herring!” and he completely cracks up.

I understand that Monty Python can be polarizing. Either you love their anarchistic British humor, or you don’t. Their style is a complete lack of respect for even the concept of a joke, which means that any situation can literally go anywhere. Combine this with a completely straight-faced delivery of even the most absurd joke and you have something that is either insanely funny or completely stupid.

Personally, I love it.

Of the three Monty Python movies, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” is my personal favorite. It may not be as coherent as “Life of Brian”, but it is entirely true to the anarchy that is the heart-blood of Monty Python.

The frame story is the legend of King Arthur and his quest for the holy grail. King Arthur (Graham Chapman) is gathering knights for his Round Table, but before they can get to Camelot (it is a silly place…) they receive the quest to find the holy grail.

Except in Monty Python’s rendition horses are replaced by a servant banging coconuts, the knights are parodies, the medieval setting is an idiotic and dirty squalor. Each episode is a setup for a joke. Some fit into the narrative, some a tangential and some are so completely fourth-wall breaking that if it was not hilariously funny it would cause a breakdown of the movie. Something that ultimately has a direct influence on the ending, which the troupe called “a big let-down … a great anti-climax”.

It is challenging to string a concept of sketches into a coherent whole and this was the first time Monty Python went from their sketch shows into directing a feature length film. There are places where you can see that they are feeling their way, but in a sense, this is also a strength of the movie. It is as if nobody told them how to make a movie, so they just did it their own way. Terry Gilliam did move on to become a very accomplished director.

That leaves just one question: What is the airspeed velocity of a swallow?

Terry Gilliam, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin, you guys are the best.

Very highly recommended.


Sunday 26 December 2021

The Wall (Deewar) (1975)



“Deewaar” was maybe the most difficult movie to watch on the List so far. I ordered it from Amazon, but the sub-provider did not handle customs, a persistent problem since Brexit, so beside the 3€ custom charge I had to pay a 20€ handling charge from the carrier. When it finally arrived it turned out that what I had bought was the 2004 version of Deewar and not the 1975 version. That version is very difficult to buy, however, it turned out that it is on Youtube, which makes it public domain. Only, that version does not come with subtitles and Hindi is, well, not my thing. Hunting high and low I did manage to find a downloadable version. Without subtitles, but at least such a version can be paired with a subtitle file. It took me five attempts to find a proper subtitle file that was only 3 minutes delayed compared to the picture. I just had to remember what I had seen some minutes before to make sense of the subtitles.  With 50 minutes left, the video changed to a second file and for this there was no subtitle file. As a result, I had to guess at what went on for the last third of the movie.

My experience with Hindi movies is largely limited to the movies on the List and I have very little basis for evaluating whether or not this is a good Hindi movie and thus worth the hardships I went through to watch this.

A union leader is leading a strike against a corporation but is forced to capitulate when the boss kidnaps his wife and two sons. He is disgraced and run away, while his family is ostracized and flees to the city. Here the mother (Nirupa Roy) must work hard to raise the children Vijay and Ravi.

Fast forward 15-20 years and the children are grown up. Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) becomes a dock worker who in the course of his work comes into contact with the underworld. When he beats up gangsters working for a kingpin called Samant, he gets the attention of another kingpin called Daavar. Soon Vijay is a trusted henchman of Daavar and making a ton of money. Meanwhile, Ravi (Shashi Kapoor) completes his studies and become a policeman.

From here it is pretty obvious that this will end in a clash and that everybody will feel devastated with the outcome.

This looks like a good production with action scenes and reasonable acting. The songs are limited and there is only a singe dance sequence. I think I might have enjoyed watching this if it had not been so straining to work out what was happening. A lot of the sentiments are communicated hard, there is very little subtlety here and that is actually quite helpful, but it also gives the movie a crude appearance. It is a difference movie culture and that is about as far as that is.

What I liked was how cool Vijay was portrayed. With his hairstyle and open shirts with large collars he looks and acts like an Indian Elvis look-alike with a penchant for over-the-top coolness. I would not say it was outright comical, but it did have an unintentional effect in that direction.

I doubt Hindi movies will ever be my thing, but it is always interesting to watch something else. This one may be a good representative, but I would like it to be a little more accessible for me to actually enjoy it.  

Thursday 16 December 2021

The Man Who Would Be King (1975)


Off-List: The Man Who Would Be King

The third off-List movie for 1975 is “The Man Who Would Be King”. This is one of those movies that look pretty amazing on paper. A Rudyard Kipling story, directed by John Huston and starring Sean Connery, Michael Caine and Christopher Plummer. Yet I never heard of this movie until I started screening 1975 for potential off-List movies. This could either be a giant flop or a hidden gem.

The answer, at least in my poor opinion, is somewhere in between. This is a big and impressive production. There is format here, quality in the production and an adventure like few others. But there is also something very old-fashioned and outdated about the story itself and the sentiments behind. “Gunga Din”, another Kipling story, was outdated in 1939 and “The Man Who Would Be King”, more than 30 years later follow almost the same colonialist track. There are some excuses, but is it enough?

Rudyard Kipling himself (Christopher Plummer) is found by a haggard and slightly unhinged Peachy Carnehan (Michael Caine) who relates to him a strange tale, starting with a chance encounter with Kipling years earlier in Victorian era India. Peachy and Daniel Dravot (Sean Connery) are two British adventurers. As sergeants in the British colonial forces they have been everywhere and seen everything in India and they are now effectually conmen roaming the land, exploiting what they are able to exploit. They latest scheme is to venture into Kafiristan in present day Afghanistan loaded with guns to set themselves up as kings among the barbarians.

This starts out well enough. The locals appear to never having seen firearms before so when they take down a raiding party they are impressed with them. Peachy and Daniel are tasked with training an army and conquering the neighbors. When they win, they prevent the traditional bloodbath and want the conquered to join ranks and instead the tribe leader is cut down, making Peachy and Daniel de facto leaders. In one of these early battles Daniel is struck by an arrow. It pierces his bandolier instead of his chest, but to the locals it looks like he is ignoring a killing shot and they see him as a god, the long-awaited son of Sikander, Alexander the Great of antiquity. Being king and god, the two adventurers have gained all they hope for, only to find out what happens when people realize they have been duped.

Connery and Caine are more British than British. Their colonial arrogance is immense and so is their enterprising cheek. This is both amusing and fascinating, but also jarring. No doubt they were excellent picks for the roles. As representatives of western supremacy, they are both shamelessly arrogant and foolishly ignorant. I would not be surprised if this sort of people actually went around doing these things in the nineteenth century and I would be even less surprised to learn of it happening in this day and age. The potential problem here is that we are supposed to like and root for them and in the process see the locals as backward fools. And they are likeable and funny and bold and is this right? I cannot help thinking that as entertaining and impressive this movie is, its colonialist premise simply does not work anymore and I wonder if it did in 1975. Sure, their arrogance lead to their fall and there may be a message there and I suppose that carries a meaning too, but is that the point or just an excuse?

Maybe I am thinking to much meaning into this. Maybe this should simply be seen as an adventure, as a boys fantasy, of wealth and fame and danger in the exotic wilds of the world. And Peachy and Daniel were not the last to underestimate the Afghans and flee out of the country.

It is worth watching the movie, the production value alone makes it worthwhile, but I also understand why it has practically disappeared.

Thursday 9 December 2021

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)


The Rocky Horror Picture Show

In 94 I went to a cinema while in London to watch “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”, armed with rice, water gun and all the other paraphernalia required for a proper viewing of this movie. It was a weird and fun experience, but I remember zip from the movie itself. I know I have watched it since, but my memory of what went on in the movie is very sketchy.

Watching it again on the List I understand why. Despite a premise or plot that is completely out there wacky there is also absolutely no meat to the story. Par for the course you might say for a musical, but seriously, nothing in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is coherent.

If you do not know or know of this movie you must have been living on the moon for the past several decades. For better or worse “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is an institution of bad taste.

The plot is, well hang on, that Janet (Susan Sarandon) and Brad (Barry Bostwick), a newly engaged couple, gets themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere in the rain. They seek help in a gothic castle where they are greeted by Riff Raff (Richard O’Brien), an Igor look-alike, and Magenta (Patricia Quinn) who carries some resemblance to Frankensteins Bride. Brad and Janet finds themselves in the midst of a Transylvanian Transvestite Convention. The party, and indeed the castle, is headed by the bisexual Frank N. Furter (Tim Curry), a crazy scientist who are creating Frankenstein like creatures like Rocky and Eddie. He also has machines to turn people into marble statues and back into people wearing stockings and underwear. It also turns out that Dr. Frank is an alien from another planet, though exactly what he is doing on Earth eluded me, and the castle is actually a spaceship…

If any of this made any sense, then I am impressed.

The raison-d’etre for “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is the music, the provocation and the wild ride of going beyond anything seen before or since. Somebody had a lot of fun thinking this out and I am certain that in the day, this would have caused a splash. Today, though, it is the incredible level of kitsch that keeps the movie alive. This is the epitome of trash.

Being a musical, the score is of course incredibly important. I do not feel I am the right one to judge the quality, but a song like “The Time Warp” was a staple at parties in my youth and I suppose the score in general have some merit.

For me personally it always frustrates me how musicals sacrifice the narrative to shoehorn in the songs, but in the case of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” the story is so confused and pointless that this really did not matter much. I was in it for the spectacle and that did not fail. Visually, this is not something you experience every day, whether it is Susan Sarandon going around most of the movie in her underwear, Tim Curry with heavy lipstick, mascara and women’s wear trying to bed both Janet and Brad, or Dr. Scott (Jonathan Adams) in a wheelchair wearing fishnet stockings and heels under his coat. This is just nuts.

You can still find midnight showings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and that in itself is crazy. I wonder if the audience is still bringing all the props to the party.


Sunday 5 December 2021

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)


Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

Some movies on the List have a reputation that precedes them, for better or worse, and “Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles”, or just “Jeanne Dielman” is one of those and not for the better.

Not only does this movie have a title of impressive length, it also boast a running time of 200 minutes and a pacing that may be the slowest I ever experienced. The dialogue may actually be shorter than “2001, a Space Odyssey”. To call this boring or dull would be the understatement of the year.

And yet, I did find something in it.

We, the audience, is a fly on the wall, witnessing the daily life of Jeanne Dielman (Delphine Seyrig). She lives in an apartment with her teenage son, and this is literally her life. She runs this home with military precision. Dusting, cooking, shopping, washing, eating. Everything is done precisely, completely and with a sense for the detail. Every move is practiced and correct. Tools in the kitchen each have their specific place, she wears correct protection for her cloth when she cleans, the bathtub is scrubbed after use and shoes a polished every morning. Everything is in order and correct.

Much of this is recorded in real-time, which makes it almost overwhelming in its locked and confined pattern. The one oddity is that to maintain this home she prostitutes herself. Each man has his day. He comes, does his thing and leaves. Done. Jeanne Dielman makes it look like just another house-wifey thing to do.

Halfway through the movie Dielman starts to crack. Imperceptibly at first, forgetting a few things, getting distracted. Then it seems like she is thrown off track and cannot get back in the pattern. It is as if the life she has lived so far does not do it for her anymore and in her own way she rebels against it.

This is supposed to be a feministic movie and I can understand why. Jeanne Dielman is locked in her role. Doing it to perfection brings some contentment and purpose to her, but it is also a prison and a submission, to conventions and to men, symbolized by her prostitution. It is an empty life though, as represented by the completely meaningless conversation she has with her neighbor and once she is shaken she fails to re-find any meaning.

I also appreciate the tortured slowness of the movie. Without spending this much time with the domestic chores we would not to the same extent have understood how much of a meaningless prison it is. This is not domestic bliss, but a regimen to maintain the domestic ideal. Nothing is done for the joy of it, but because it is the right thing to do.

That does not mean I enjoyed the movie. It is painfully slow, and I had to chop it up to get through it and even then I was getting nuts looking at her peeling potatoes for 5-10 minutes. This is as far from a date movie you can possibly get unless you want you date to run away screaming, but as an intellectual exercise it is a very smart movie, and it completely hits home with its message. I am actually happy to have watched it, but I do not think I would want go through watching it again.

I think there are way worse movies on the List. In fact, I think this movie deserves a better reputation.