So you’ve got something that you think is smart or important to say, but how do you make people listen to it and accept it for a fact?
The easiest way is to claim it’s comes from Albert Einstein. Who dares to question a genius?
According to Wikipedia he did offer his views on a great many things, far outside of his own field in physics. But he also has been attributed a lot of quotes where the origin is unclear and you’ve got a good reason to be sceptical.
I recently saw an example of this type of vague Einstein quoting in a documentary about bees, More Than Honey. The film leads us to believe that Einstein once stated that if all bees in the world would die off, mankind would be extinguished within four years. A quick Google check doesn’t provide any sources whatsoever for this quote. On the contrary, the general view is that it’s unverified and most likely an urban legend. And when you think closer about it: even if it was a correct quote, how would we know that Einstein would be right about this since wasn’t a biologist at all?
I think Markus Imhoof would have been better off not bringing up Einstein, since all it does is to undermine the credibility of the film. And this is a shame, since – the potentially false quote aside – this is an engaging, enlightening and overall excellent documentary about a perspective of the world that I normally don’t pay a lot of attention to: the one of bees.
The sudden death of bees
With a beekeeper in the family, I was familiar with some of their challenges, such as the dread of the varroa mites and a new variety of “killer bees” spreading over the world, but I didn’t know how bad it was. A fifth of the bees of the world have died. Sometimes the reason is apparent: a disease or overexposure to pesticides. But sometimes they don’t know. One day when it’s time to harvest the honey they’ll open the beehive and find it in a post-apocalyptic shape, dead and empty.
The consequences of this go further than to our access to honey. The things they tell us about bees and flowers at school weren’t just sexual education in disguise. It actually matters. Bees are essential for fruit-growing, where they’re needed for their pollination services.
In China there are already areas where the lack of bees has led to that the pollination needs to be done manually, where people climb the fruit trees, applying pollen to the flowers with a little brush. Is this how the future will look?
A look into the life of bees
But More Than Honey is more than just a warning call for the bee situation. The filmmaker comes from a family that has kept bees for generation and you can sense the love and fascination for craft and the creatures in every frame. We get a thorough lesson in the life of bees, learning about how their collective mind works, how the bring up and kill off their own, depending on the needs of the hive and how they communicate shaking their hips in a manner that goes beyond what you see on a club dance floor a Friday night.
There are plenty of close-ups (and a bit of CGI) that give us the chance to get a good look at the bees, maybe a too good look for some tastes. I’m not particularly scared of bees, but there were moments of where I felt, if not nausea, at least discomfort staring into their eyes. There’s something truly alien about insects and there’s a good reason why they have served as a source of inspiration to so many horror movie monsters.
A Swiss documentary about bees doesn’t sound like a given box office hit and once again I have to thank my local independent theatre for giving me the chance to see a little film like this one on a big screen. But who knows? Sometimes movies get wings and reach further out in the world than you would have thought. Like the bees. If you ever see this one fly by, I suggest you to grab the chance and have a look at it. Even if they were wrong about Einstein.
More Than Honey (Markus Imhoof, 2012) My rating: 4/5
In food labelling, they always list the ingredients after how much there is of it in the product. (You might want to think twice before informing yourself. Do you really want to know that sugar is the second biggest ingredient in your favourite müsli?)
For some movies the genre declaration at IMDb works the same way, and this is the case of Safety Not Guaranteed. Comedy, romance and science fiction, in that order. But the science fiction part is small, just an added touch of flavour.
You might think there would have been more of it, considering it’s a movie about time-travelling. There’s this man who claims that he has built a machine that helps you go back in time. When he advertises for a partner to go with him, this catches the attention of a magazine, which decides to write an article about him. A team is sent out to hunt him down, convinced that he’s either a fraud or crazy. The main story is about the developments between one of the team members and the man with the time machine, but there are also a couple of unrelated side stories about what her co-workers are up to while she’s doing the tracking.
What the stories have in common is that all of them are about the necessity of taking a leap of faith once in a while in your life. With no leaps of faith, you won’t get laid, you can’t fall in love and you’ll never get to travel in time.
I really loved this little film. It’s kind of sweet and endearing, but never overly so. I think they’ve only used natural sweeteners, no artificial ones. It’s yet another example of how good the writing means a great deal more for the end result than the size of the budget.
Sometimes movies about journeys in time can make your brain fry as you’re struggling to keep up with the timelines, as in the case of Primer, where I had no clue at all about what was going on. This movie is a lot easier in that aspect, but managed to give my mind at least a little bit of tickling, enough to make me wake up at 2.30 in the night with a snap: “wait here, so THAT’S what happened, of course!”
The insight made me giggle and I had to suppress an impulse to wake up my daughter who had watched it with me to share my findings. When I told her the next morning, she agreed on my conclusion about the movie, but even more on my decision to let her sleep.
The question is: did I? What if I had made a time machine…?
Safety Not Guaranteed (Colin Trevorrov, US 2012) My rating: 4/5
I approached The Turin Horse with an equal amount of dread and determination.
I was prepared for a long and hard fight after all I’d heard about it. Apparently it was a movie that would put even professional film critics into deep sleep, and they if any should know the tricks to avoid being knocked out.
I had taken all measures against sleeping accidents that I could think of, balancing the amount of coffee I’d drunk with the size against the size of my bladder. You want to end up in the perfect spot between sleep and bio breaks during the screening. I had also chosen an afternoon screening, as far away from ordinary bedtime as possible.
The more I heard of the horse, the scarier it seemed to me. At the point it was time to see it, I was convinced it wold kick my ass, despite my efforts.
So what did I fear? Well it wasn’t the black and white format. I don’t find that off-putting at all; on the contrary I think t sometimes looks a lot better than colour. I wasn’t bothered about it being Hungarian either. As a Swede you’re used to watch most movies with subtitles to the degree that it has become a second nature. You don’t think about it.
What worried me most was the plot. Or should I rather say: lack of plot?
Two persons sitting in a small house in a godforsaken place, slowly eating potatoes, barely speaking a word with each other, barely moving at all, and the only thing that happens in the movie is that a horse refuses to walk. What I understood this non-walking was vaguely related to an incident in the life of Nietzsche, but that didn’t make it sound more thrilling. It seemed to me like a parody of an incomprehensible art house movie, unbearably obsessed with its own importance. The kind of movie that travels around the world between festival screenings, gets a ton of critical appraisal and awards, but a very little audience. I imagined that in best case, I would laugh at it for its ridiculousness, in worst case I would have enough after five minutes.
So why did I want to see it at all? Partly I think it was peer pressure. Or to put it nicer: openness towards suggestions. I had picked up from other bloggers that Tarr was an interesting filmmaker. Several loved him, others hated him, which raised my curiosity. I wanted to check out one of his movies and make up my own opinion. There was also something about the still images that attracted me. They were realistic, but with a flavour of added magic, reminding me of Bergman or Tarkovskij.
And then there was also the challenge. The more I heard about how hard it was to get through, the more did I want to. A little bit of vanity or competiveness if you want to put it that way. I saw it as a way to push myself to explore new territories. When I left the ticket to the usher, I felt as if I was entering the start position, making myself ready to run a marathon. I would show them! I, the perpetual film snoozer, would make myself through this movie, if it so would mean that my body would be bruised from top to toe by all my pinching of myself!
You all know how it is with expectations. They’re deceptive and often in a bad way. The higher the hopes are the harder will we fall when we get something different.
But sometimes it goes the other way round. We enter a theatre expecting to be served something that tastes as unmarked leftovers you found in the bottom of your freezer and ten warmed up too quickly: watery, old and bland. And then it turns out to be the opposite: a tasty and beautifully crafted meal that doesn’t resemble to anything you’ve had before. It will stay with you.
This was what happened to me at The Turin Horse. To my own astonishment I went with it. I even liked it, maybe loved it, as crazy as it may sound. A part of me says: “People slowly eating potatoes and walking around in a sand storm with a stubborn horse? Give me a break!”
But somehow I got into it. It reminded me of meditation or yoga. At first your overheated brain, accustomed to an urban lifestyle, gets a shock and tries to get you out of there with all sorts of distractions. “This is SO slow. Why am I doing this? My feet are itching. Doesn’t it smell funny? How long are we going to sit here?” But then you change. Your breathing changes, you feel lightness in your mind and body and you lose interest to follow the countdown until it will be over. I watched them pealing their potatoes, talk to the neighbour, get water from the well and feed the horse. And in that moment, I didn’t want to be anywhere else.
What is the movie about? Is it an apocalypse, a movie about the end of the world, something taking place a few years before The Road? Or was it just a year with a bit of bad weather? And what does it all mean? Is there a hidden message in it to be decoded by people who know more about Nietzsche than I?
I don’t know. But I do know that I for some inexplicable reason loved The Turin Horse.
This is about as far as you can come from Star Trek Into Darkness, which I also watched recently, and yet I give them the same rating, but for completely different reasons.
What can I say? I love movies. All sorts of movies. Even those with horses that refuse to walk.
I just gave him a hug.
The Turin Horse (A torinói ló, Béla Tarr & Ágnes Hranitzky, HU 2011) My rating: 4,5/5
Movie bloggers have never been able to agree on a standard system for rating. Some use a 4 star scale. Others follow the IMDb standard, going from 1 to 10. I’ve seen a handful of bloggers rating movies from 1-100. I think it takes some guts to do that. Personally I have no idea how I would distinguish a 67 star movie from a 68. I cold as well throw dices about it.
I’ve decided to rate movies from 1 to 5, using half point additions when I feel like it. It’s not something I’ve given a lot of thought; it’s mostly a matter of habit. They used to give us grades at school from 1 to 5, and 1 to 5 is still the most common system in Sweden for rating anything from movies to how good a football player was in the match last night. It’s a scale that I intuitively understand, so I stick to it.
Then there are those who choose to rate the movies in numbers at all. I’ve seen some good arguments for this standpoint: that it’s oversimplifying and that it detracts attention from what you have to say about the movie. Too much focus is put on a number. You run the risk that the readers only will check out the star rating and then move on.
I respect this standpoint, shared by many a good critic, such as my favourite Mark Kermode. Maybe I too will stop ranking movies in numbers at some point in the future. But for now being I’ll keep doing it. One reason is that I find it helpful when other people rate movies in numbers, since it can help me read their text in a proper way. Critics can sometimes get awfully whiny, spending most of a text on pointing out problems in a movie, despite the fact that they actually love it, despite the flaws. A rating can help to straighten this out. I’ve also found that the demand of coming up with a number helps me in my thought process. It forces me to make up my mind about a movie and sort out my feelings.
We may argue over which rating system is best or weather to rate movies at all, but the question is if we haven’t all been beaten by the system invented by Dave Van Hallgren.
Dave doesn’t disclose his age, but considering how he talks, I assume he’s somewhere around four or five years old, and he’s already an experienced podcaster. He is the newest rising star on the film critic horizon. Together with his father, Sam Van Hallgren, he talks about classical movies in an additional segment to one of my favourite podcasts, Filmspotting. So far they’ve made four episodes, and to be honest Dave is stealing the show. If they’ll stop doing this, I’m pretty sure it’s because the ordinary crew of Filmspotting fear the competition for attention.
You can tell that Dave has developed a sophisticated taste for movies already at this early age. He’s very much into the classics and sprinkles his star ratings over them in the most generous way. In the latest show he must have broken a new record when it was time to give a grade to Singing in the Rain. After some thinking Dave landed on an astonishing thousand stars.
Adam Kempenaar, usually host of Filmspotting, was a guest at the father-son Van Hallgren podcast. Hearing about the thousand stars he got curious and asked Dave what he based his rating on. Which system did he use?
And Dave explained it. The system is that the movie will get the same amount of stars as the number of times he’d like to watch it. This means that a movie that you hated so much that you never want to see it again under any circumstances would get a 1 star rating. A movie that you could consider watching once a year for the rest of your life could get up to75-80 stars, depending on your age.
Following this, 1 000 stars is a very good grade indeed. As much as I love Singing in the Rain, I’m not sure I could stomach watching it that many times. But all respect to Dave for being up for it, and also: good on him for inviting is own rating system at this age.
If his father lets him keep going as a film critic, the sky is the limit for what he can accomplish, starting at this age.
I’ll tell you right from the beginning that I’m very biased when it comes to Star Trek.
Full disclosure: I’m a fan since many years, holding Captain Picard and TNG as my favourite. I love everything about the franchise – even the inevitable bad episodes that appear once or twice every season when they’ve run out of money and spend the entire episode playing poker in the holodeck because it’s cheap. Star Trek can basically never go wrong.
On the other hand I’m not a fanatic. I don’t call myself a trekkie and I don’t go to Star Trek conventions dressed up as a Star Fleet member. I don’t consider the original series or anything else that has been done in the past a sacred territory and I don’t automatically think that older is better. I love what they did with the 2009 reboot. The tempering with timelines was a smart thing to do to provide more freedom. I thought the changes were well judged and necessary to introduce Star Trek once again to a new, modern audience.
I tell you all of this so you know what kind of post this will be. If you’re not into Star Trek at all, you might find my enthusiasm inexplicable. And if you’re a die-hard trekkie of the more conservative sort, you might sneer at how willingly I buy into all the new stuff. The blasphemy!
But enough of background information and let’s go to the point, namely what I thought about Star Trek Into Darkness. Considering that the title of this post gives it away, it doesn’t come as a surprise that I loved it. In fact I loved it so much that I’m considering watching it a second time while it’s still running in the theatres. I don’t normally do this, but, this ride was so enjoyable that I’d happily do it again, using the family member who missed out seeing it with the rest of us as an excuse: “You want some company?”
There’s also a special reason why I’d like to make a revisit. Without saying too much, you could say that the movie is firmly rooted into Star Trek history, not exactly a remake, but closely connected to an episode in the original series and one of the movies. I would lie if I said that I remembered anything of this as I watched the movie. I had to go back afterwards and catch up with the origin and see how it fit together. And this in turn made me want to see the reboot a second time, this time with the full context clear to me, prepared to notice and enjoy every little reference (and there are plenty.)
Typical Star Trek themes
As so often is the case with science fiction movies, I’ll be very vague about the story. I realize that many of you, if not everyone, already know who the villain is. But maybe someone doesn’t, and I certainly don’t want to be the one to spoil it.
So let’s just say that we once again meet Kirk, Spock and the rest of the Enterprise family, not all that long after the last movie finished. They’re still young and inexperienced, still learning from trial and error, still trying to figure out how to handle the star fleet regulations as well as their inner morale compasses, as they’re pointing them in different directions.
This collision between rules and ethics has always been a present theme in Star Trek and is one of the elements that make the modern movies feel like they tie into the tradition, even if they have a different look and pacing. The elastic outfits of the crew vary in colour and shape, and the budget for make-up of alien species give different results over time. But beneath the surface, it’s the same question that keeps coming back: what does it mean to be human and what makes us different to machines and truly alien aliens? The way to approach this is to let someone – a man, a woman, a Vulcan or an android – face an ethical dilemma, where the key to success always is to think “outside of the box”, to free your mind from prejudices and be willing to see things from different perspectives, not necessarily in compliance with the rules.
Another typical Star Trek feature, also present here, is the humour, the funny one-liners, verbal jabbing between the crew members, delivered with a straight face or a raised eye-brow. Because of this, Star Trek never will get genuinely dark. It’s just not in its DNA to be that, and frankly I don’t know who they’re trying to kid with the title and marketing. “Into Darkness”? No way!
The darkest moment I can recall of Star Trek was when Captain Picard for a while was incorporated into the Borg. But not even then would I call Star Trek “dark”. If nothing else, the optimistic signatures to all the TV series give it all away. We know that humanity will win over evil in the end, the question isn’t “if”, but “how”. It’s in the nature of Star Trek to remain hopeful, always looking for a solution, no matter what challenge they’re facing on their mission in space.
Lack of exploration
And speaking of this, this is the one thing that I find lacking in the movie if you compare it to the TV series: the sense of exploration. For me Star Trek was always about being on a big adventure, boldly travelling a never-ending space to new worlds for scientific reasons, and apart from the opening scene, this is missing. Actually someone even drops a remark early in the movie about research being replaced by war and shouldn’t we head out for a 5-year mission? There’s no seeking out new life forms, no time travelling, no communicating with creatures beyond what a human can grasp and nothing of the fun messing around with time and space continuum that always made for the best episodes. This movie mostly about fighting, with any mean you can find – star ships, laser guns or – if you don’t have anything else at hands – fists.
On the other hand, this is not unique. It seems to me that the films often have been more focused on protecting Earth against various threats, while the mind-bending ideas and the expeditions to far distant galaxies have been left for the TV series to deal with. However this absence of exploration, both of space and of bigger, philosophical ideas, is what keeps me from giving it a 5/5. I would have loved to have my brain tickled just a little bit more to be completely satisfied.
I could go on and on forever talking about everything I loved about this film, but I’ve already done that in a long conversation with one of my daughters, also a Star Trek fan. After the movie we talked at length about the beautiful lens flares, that looked even better in 3D (though I on the whole think you’re better off watching it in 2D), and how brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch is as a villain and how much we love the Kirk/Spock bromance and…
Star Trek Into Darkness (J.J. Abrams, US 2013) My rating: 4,5/5
They want to stop us from showing the movie!”
The woman looked concerned, but her voice was determined.
“I’m not going to let that happen.”
I was at the brand new Abba museum when I overheard this conversation yesterday.
I had walked through most of the museum, or rather danced my way through it, with a huge smile on my face. Abba music has that effect on me: it makes me happy and bouncy. That’s how I’m wired after all those years.
Now I was standing in the room with the costume exhibition, staring in wonder at all their outfits, which left nothing to wish for in terms of imagination.
The woman caught my attention as she was talking about the exhibition in front of a small group of people. Judging from the knowledge she displayed she appeared to work there. I was confused at first; I hadn’t heard about any arrangements with guided tours. But then I noticed that the four or five people she was talking to all took notes. They behaved as if they were reporters rather than ordinary visitors. In fact this must be a press tour of some sort, which made sense since the museum had opened for the public as late as the day before.
I’m a notoriously curios person, so I tuned my ears to pick up more of what she said, while I stared intensely at a particularly extravagant dress, as if I wanted to figure out how to make a copy of it for myself.
The movie that someone wanted to stop was Lasse Hallström’s Abba: The Movie. This is mostly a documentary about the band’s touring in Australia (where Abba were immensely popular). It also has an additional coating which is fictional: a story about a made-up reporter who tries to get an interview with the band. They show the film non-stop at the Abba museum, in the small, built-in theatre.
The woman had just learned that someone (unclear who, but it sounded as if it was someone with influence) had told the museum to stop screening the movie immediately.
“There have been accusations about pedophilia against the actor who plays the reporter who chases them. So now they say that we can’t show it. I’m going to make some phone calls. I’m going to sort this out. We can’t erase him and pretend he didn’t exist. It would be to lie about history.”
I was on the verge of speaking up. I wanted to her about who the person was that just had called her and requested the movie to be redrawn. But I pushed back the idea. I wasn’t here as a journalist and I wasn’t invited to their party. I was just an ordinary visitor, snooping around.
In my mind however I was on her side. The idea to stop the movie for this reason is ridiculous.
Imagine a world where we made it a rule not to show movies if there’s someone in it who has made something criminal or otherwise appalling. No more Joan Crawford movies; she was accused of child abuse. Never watch a Polanski film again. Not to speak of all actors in the past who have beaten their spouses or been involved in drug businesses.
We have courts to handle crimes and punishment. That’s what they’re for. We don’t need erratic spontaneous boycott actions against movies. A movie production involves hundreds of people, is it fair to punish all of them because of the deeds of one person?
Besides I can’t imagine the suspected child molester cares the slightest whether a movie from 1977 is screened or not in a museum in Stockholm. All you would accomplish by stopping it is to piss off thousands of Abba fans.
The woman from the museum said she was going to make some phone calls. I hope they’ll be successful.
There’s nothing tragic about being fifty. Not unless you’re trying to be twenty-five.”
I was chewing on the famous line and the bite kept growing on me, filling my mouth with a bitter taste. Finally I swallowed it down, deciding that it didn’t refer to me. I may have some hobbies, preferences and habits that are different to what you expect from a 45 year old, but I’ve never obsessed over my wrinkles or hair colour. I carry the inevitable breakdown of my body with equanimity.
But even if I shrugged away that nagging quote, I still felt rather sad after I had watched Sunset Boulevard at my local film club. It exposed the dark side of the machinery of Hollywood, the cynicism that grows from it and the inevitability that everyone who enters this wold at one point will be spit out and thrown away when it’s been decided that they’re too old. And this moment will come a lot earlier in your life if you’re a female actor than if you’re a male.
It made me even more depressed to think about how up-to-date this film is, more than 60 years after it was made.
My initial reaction had been to think: why couldn’t they make it the reverse? Make it about a man who clings to dreams of his glorious past and who in vain pursuits the love from a younger woman. But then I realized that the movie isn’t showing the world as it should be. It just holds up a mirror to let us see the ugly truth, the way the system works.
All it takes to see its relevance today is to throw a glance at the tabloid press and you’ll see dozes of articles about current actors who expose themselves to treatments that are more brutal and far reaching than the ones that the former silent movie star Norma Desmond submits to during the movie. Like her, they fight their wrinkles fiercely to keep themselves employable, prolonging their time on the screen. And they’ll do anything to keep their real age a secret, including suing IMDb for displaying it.
So little has happened since Sunset Boulevard opened. Youth is still worshipped in Hollywood and the rest of the world. A love affair between an older woman and a younger man is still frowned upon (while the opposite, an older man dating a younger woman is perfectly acceptable.) It brings down my mood to think about it.
And yet, for all of this darkness, I cherished every second of the movie. While it is a tragedy at core, it’s got a lot of humour in it too. And the writing! Don’t get me started on it. It’s far from the natural, improvised style that I enjoy in modern movies, but I enjoy it for what it is: a show number by someone who knows how to dance with words.
There are so many great lines in it that it ends up to several pages at IMDb of memorable quotes.
Audiences don’t know somebody sits down and writes a picture; they think the actors make it up as they go along.”
Joe Gillis: [voice-over]
You don’t yell at a sleepwalker – he may fall and break his neck. That’s it: she was still sleepwalking along the giddy heights of a lost career.”
But I need to pick just one it will have to be this:
You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.”
I *am* big. It’s the *pictures* that got small.”
Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, US 1950) My rating: 5/5
This post is a part of a blogathon run by the Swedish film blogging network Filmspanarna. The theme was “films about film”. Here’s a list of links to the other participants (all other posts in Swedish):