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Moving pictures 2017, #48

I’ve managed to knock the percentage of films I’ve watched since 2001 that are from the US down to 50.9%, but I’m still trying to get it below half. So far in 2017 alone, the percentage is much lower – only 26%, with the UK at 12%, China at 8%, France at 7% and so on… I’ve also watched movies from 52 different countries to date in 2017.

Into the Sea, Marion Poizeau (2016, UK). I found this on Amazon Prime, an hour-long documentary about an Irish surfboarder’s attempt to introduce the sport to Iran, specifically to Baluchistan, and, being female, using female contacts in Iran. I’ve watched a bunch of Iranian films, I’ve even visited the country (although it was back in the days of the Shah), so I have some knowledge of the country. And many of the obstacles met by Easkey as she tries to surf on the Baluchistani coast, with the help of snowboarder Mona and diver Shalha – and okay, I’d always thought Baluchistan was a part of Pakistan not Iran – came as no real surprise. However, the way the three women won over the local male authorities was a done really well, and the scenes of them teaching some of the area’s male youth to surf promised a brighter future. (Much as the young women of the local villages would have liked to surf, their families would not let them.) Surfing is not a sport, or a pasttime, I find interesting – like many sports, it’s more fun to do than to watch – and while Easkey’s mission may have been born out of a selfish desire to surf a coast no one has surfed before, what she actually achieved is so much more. In these days of normalised fascism and overt racism by world leaders, it’s nice to know that some people still believe in, and are successful in creating, bridges between different cultures. No matter what prompted it, or what the “bridge” is made from.

The Life of Oharu, Kenji Mizoguchi (1952, Japan). I found this box set on eBay and bought it because it includes an Ozu film that is not otherwise available. It classifies only two directors as “Japanese masters” – Yasujiro Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi… and while it’s hard to deny them their master status, it’s surely a title that should apply to more directors. The Ozu I couldn’t otherwise find is The End of Summer, which the BFI doesn’t appear to have released yet in the lovely dual format editions they have of Ozu’s other films (of course, now I’ve tracked down a copy, they’ll go and release it…). But The Life of Oharu is Mizoguchi, a director I do not esteem as I do Ozu, although David Tallerman repeatedly tells me he is very good and insists I watch his films… And having now seen The Life of Oharu (or O-haru), I can sort of see what he means. This wasn’t an especially good print, far too dark in places, and with a muddy soundtrack. One of the things I like most about Ozu’s films is that they’re ensemble pieces, where as Mizoguchi’s, if the titles are any indication, are not. And that’s certainly true of The Life of Oharu, which tells the story of its title character from the moment she’s exiled from her liege lord’s land for falling in love with a man of a much lower class (he gets beheaded). She’s then chosen to be the mother of another lord’s heir, but is sent home afterwards with a pittance. Her father had run up debts in expectation of her reward, and so sells her to a house of courtesans. But she fails at that too. There’s a heartbreaking scene near the end where Oharu is taken to meet her son, who has now taken over as lord on the death of his father. But all she’s allowed to do is watch him as he walks past with his entourage, and she’s told in no uncertain terms that her history is too embarrassing for him to ever acknowledge her as his mother. A depressingly grim film in places, but a good one.

The Hustler*, Robert Rossen (1961, USA). I’m not a Paul Newman fan, I’d much sooner watch Rock Hudson or Cary Grant or William Hurt, but The Hustler is on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list and there was a box set of four Newman films going for a couple of quid in an Amazon Prime Day or something a few months ago… so I bought it. And… meh. US critics seem to like films about working class types who try to better themselves, appear to succeed, but walk away with nothing more than their dignity battered. Because, of course, actually prospering would show up the American Dream for the hollow lie that it is. Newman plays the title role, a pool shark who meets his match in Jackie Gleason, but then goes away to improve his game and… well, the path to riches can never run smooth in the American Dream. Because it only really exists in cultural artefacts whose sole purpose seems to be to prove its existence by documenting its failures. If that makes sense. In a way, it helps mythologise those who do succeed in the real world – all the while helpfully obscuring just how much of an evil shit, or how bafflingly lucky, they were to succeed in the first place. None of which is especially relevant. Newman is beaten, he goes way, gets better, comes back, and humiliates Gleason. Along the way, some shit happens. There was apparently a Tom Cruise vehicle sequel a couple of decades later. I won’t be watching it.

Joi Baba Felunath, Satyajit Ray (1979, India). I mistakenly bought this thinking it was unavailable in the UK, only to then discover it’s in Artificial Eye’s Satyajit Ray Collection Volume 2, which is readily available. Oh well. I hope that version is a better transfer than this one. It didn’t help that the subtitles were often out of synch with the dialogue – and disappeared altogether in some parts of the film – so I was never really sure who was saying what (in one scene, you have to remember the subtitles from a dialogue-free scene some thirty seconds earlier to figure out what’s going on). And the movie had been encoded onto the disc as two films, one of 82 minutes and another of 23 minutes that began immediately after the first. Which was confusing. Joi Baba Felunath is an adaptation of a novel of the same title by Ray featuring his private investigator character Feluda. In Joi Baba Felunath, he is asked while visiting Benares to look into the theft of a valuable Ganesha figurine made of gold and jewels. The owner has a good idea who the thief is – a wealthy merchant who has asked several times to buy it – but he’s not sure. Feluda, with his cousin and a friend who writes detective novels, investigates. It’s not a convoluted mystery, and there’s no real urgency to Feluda’s quest – although a showdown with the villain does get threatening, and a murder later follows. It’s also a wholly male film, and there’s no soundtrack – although there are a couple of musical set-pieces. Joi Baba Felunath seems to be quite well-regarded in Ray’s oeuvre, but I thought it played more like a drama than the thriller its plot demanded.

Oh! What a Lovely War, Richard Attenborough (1969, UK). The title rang a vague bell, and I stumbled across this in a charity shop so it was doubtless worth a punt… The title refers to WWI and the film is an anti-war musical that tries to make palatable its points but instead makes light of them. The dialogue is, a pre-credit title card helpfully informs, taken entirely from published commentary by the historical characters depicted. Hindsight renders this somewhat less than shocking – we know WWI was a clusterfuck, and we know it was because of the clueless generals. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp tackles the same subject but far better. Oh! What a Lovely War, however, does have a fascinating cast list – pretty much everyone who was anyone in UK acting circles in 1969. And quite a few whose stars would not rise for several years, such as Ian Holm. It’s a typical Attenborough movie: big bold statement, colourfully presented, top-drawer cast, sentiments the audience have long since assimilated, and just enough whimsy in the staging to be eligible for an award… It was entertaining enough, but horror stories about WWI no longer have the shock value they did half a century ago, and frankly if anyone these days is shocked by Oh! What a Lovely War they must be a fucking idiot. Not a bad film, by any means, just one whose time has come and gone.

The Tenth Victim, Elio Petri (1965, Italy). I must admit, these Shameless releases are actually quite good. Well, perhaps “good” is not exactly the right word… But, you can’t go wrong with a well-made giallo, and the Italians certainly made enough of them for one or two to stand out. I was so taken with Footsteps on the Moon, also released on DVD by Shameless, that I bought my own copy. The Tenth Victim is famously based on a short story by Robert Sheckley, ‘The Ninth Victim’, and he later went and wrote two sequels to the film titled Victim Prime and Hunter/Victim. Ursula Andress and Marcello Mastroianni are contestants in a televised game in which the contestants try to stalk and kill each other. The hunter and victim are picked by computer. Andress has come up with an interesting spin: she will kill her victim on live television during a commercial by her sponsor. Which means it all has to be just right, and the repeated opportunities to kill Mastronianni which she fails to take persuade him she is not his hunter… It’s all complete tosh, of course, but it’s one of those movies which tries to project the future by filming in Brutalist/Modernist buildings of the time. It doesn’t always get it right – or even get it remotely close sometimes. But the misses are pretty cool, anyway. Mastroianni sleepwalks through his role, Andress is Andress. There’s not much in the way of surprises in the plot. This is a film that’s all about the look and the setting. And in that it’s pretty entertaining. I might try a few more of these Shameless releases…

1001 Movies you Must See Before You Die count: 880

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A kind of library

So I did the usual and went and bought me more books – mostly for the collection, but a favourite author also had a new novel out, and I went a little mad one evening after watching a film and purchased everything I could find by that film-maker…

… which was Ben Rivers. The Sky Trembles and the Earth is Afraid and the Two Eyes are not Brothers (that’s the red one) was published to accompany the film of the same title. Ways of Worldmaking is about Rivers’s works. And then, on another night, fuelled by wine and Rivers’s Two Years at Sea, as I was writing about it for a Moving pictures post and comparing it with video art installations… and I remembered the excellent one I’d seen by Richard Mosse in the Hafnarhús site of the Reykjavik Art Museum last October… So I went looking online and found four books by Mosse. Both Richard Mosse  and Incoming were published to accompany a solo exhibition in the Barbican’s Curve gallery from February to April this year; the first was published by the Barbican, the second is signed. The other two books by him I found… well, Infra is $900 ($1000 for the collector’s edition), and The Enclave is $1050 ($2000 for the box set edition). A bit out of my range…

Some sf hardbacks for the collection. The Quality of Mercy was a lucky find on eBay. It’s really difficult to find a good copy, and I got it for a very reasonable price. I already have a copy of The Missionaries, but this was one was going cheap and in much better condition. Titan I bought for 10 euros from SF Bokhandeln’s stall at Worldcon75. It usually costs considerably more. Heavy Time is signed. Cuckoo’s Egg is signed and numbered – and the seller threw in Forty Thousand in Gehenna for free as he was trying to reduce stock (sadly, it’s not signed).

Some new hardbacks. Jenny Erpenbeck is a favourite writer, so I’ve been looking forward to Go, Went, Gone. The last Baxter novels I read were Proxima and Ultima and I thought them, to be honest, a bit juvenile. But he’s a hard habit to give up. Hence, Xeelee: Vengeance. If only he weren’t so fucking prolific… Exalted on Bellatrix 1 is, despite the title, the final book of Brown’s Telemass Quartet. They’re actually numbered in reverse, with the number referring to a planet of each novella’s eponymous star. Annoyingly, the other three use Roman numerals but this one doesn’t. Solid science fiction and typically Brownian – although the protagonist does come across as a bit creepily obsessive.

Two paperbacks and a graphic novel. Back in the 1970s, Newcastle Publishing issued a line of fantasy reprints, the Forgotten Fantasy Library. I’ve been picking them when I find them. She and Allan is the sixth book in the series. A recent Twitter exchange persuaded me to give Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist Histories – or “lamourist histories”, as the spine has it – another go. Glamour in Glass is the second book in the series. Well, I do like Georgette Heyer’s novels… And In Uncertain Times is the eighteenth volume in the Valerian and Laureline series, and I see Cinebook are pushing them out at a much faster rate now, after the relelase of Besson’s film (which has apparently not done all that well, anyway).


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Moving pictures 2017, #47

It happened again. I watched a film by a director, knowing nothing about him or his work when I put the disc in the player, and afterward went and bought everything by him I could find. The last time that happened, it was James Benning, an experimental film-maker (and very little of his extensive oeuvre is actually available on DVD). This time, it was Ben Rivers, an experimental film-maker… and he’s made only a handful of films.

Fatherland, Ken Loach (1986, UK). This is not an adaptation of Robert Harris’s novel of the same title, which was anyway published in 1992, and when that was adapted for the screen by HBO, they did a terrible job of it (see here). Not that I can really see Ken Loach adapting Harris’s novel in the first place. This Fatherland is about an East German singer/songwriter who escapes to the West and tries to forge out a career on the other side of the Wall. It’s been called Loach’s “least-popular film” according to Wikipedia, and part of the blame has been laid at the fact much of the dialogue is spoken in German. To be honest, I thought its biggest fault was that it was dull, and the central character was not especially interesting. Some of his music, particularly towards the end, wasn’t too bad, a very German style of rock, which reminded me a bit of my time spent studying in Germany back in the early 1990s. You could never describe Loach’s movies as films in search of a point to make, if anything they’re more likely to be obvious points somewhat bluntly encoded in the form of narrative cinema. In this one, it’s the lack of artistic freedom in East Berlin brought about by political constraints versus the lack of artistic freedom in West Berlin created by capitalist constraints. It’s a tired argument, and a little ironic coming from a committed socialist iconoclast like Loach – after all, clearly neither politics nor capitalism has prevented him from making films like Fatherland. It is nonetheless a point worth making: capitalism does not equal freedom. And it’s even more true today, thirty years later. Sadly, lowering the cost of entry to content creation to next to nothing has not resulted in a great flowering of iconoclastic art but a near endless deluge of identikit extruded commercial product of low quality. No one wants acclaim, they want dollars. The first mistake these creators are making is in assuming art is not political. Art is politics. Their second mistake is in assuming that what the world needs is another piece of derivative shit put together badly by an amateur. Most professionals may produce derivative shit, but they know exactly how to package it. The sound of jackboots echoing from MCU and tentpole sf blockbuster franchises has drowned out the voices of political film-makers like Loach. A right-wing press which seeks to trivialise him hasn’t helped either. Loach is by no means perfect, but his consistency is certainly admirable.

The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers, Ben Rivers (2015, UK). All I knew about this film when I stuck it on my rental list was the unwieldy title, and that it was about a film-maker and a little bit meta. It sounded intriguing, although I didn’t have especially high expectations – that title, for one thing, it sounds like something you might find on one of those straight-to-streaming genre films you find buried deep down in Amazon Prime’s free movies… But it turns out the title is from a short story by Paul Bowles, author of the excellent The Sheltering Sky – and I really must read more Bowles, I have his The Spider’s House on the TBR – and indeed five minutes into this film, the protagonist, a film-maker, reads out the relevant section of Bowles’s story. The film then shifts to a (mostly) context-free documentary about the film-maker filming in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains with a cast of locals. As he becomes increasingly outrageous in his demands… Well, this is not a film in which things are explained, it’s almost as if plot is treated as an emergent phenomenon (um, I like that idea; it might be worth exploring…). In one sequence, the film-maker drives his Landrover through several villages while post-metal plays. There is no dialogue, there is no explanation. The sequence is several minutes long. It’s a narrative film which plays like a documentary for much of its length, in parts reminding me Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, Pasolini’s Arabian Nights and Bertolucci’s The Sheltering Sky. But it’s also a movie about the film-making process, and how the film-making process changes the people involved, particularly those co-opted from the location.  The cinematograhpy is mostly excellent , with occasional shots that approach the beauty of Pasolini’s aforementioned film, and a few that drop into cliché. But there’s a distance to the whole, an almost clinical eye on the proceedings, which signals this is not narrative cinema designed to make money from ticket sales. I’ve said before on this blog that I really like video installations, and though their quality is wildly variable, I find something fascinating in the way they’re so defiantly unlike commercial narrative cinema, despite being the same medium, using the same tools, and making use of many of the same narrative techniques… The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers is much closer to narrative cinema than it is to video installation, but it manages to suggest it is something much closer to the latter. That’s one of the reasons why, after watching it, I bought everything by Rivers that was available on a certain humungous online retailer’s website.

Se Eu Fosse Você and Se Eu Foss Você 2, Daniel Filho (2006 and 2009, Brazil). The body-swap comedy is almost a subgenre in its own right, there have been that many films made with the premise. There are two main variations – husband/wife and parent/child. Se Eu Fosse Você – the title means “If I was you” – is a pretty straightforward Brazilian attempt at the former. Claudio and Helena are a happily-married and comfortably well-off couple, with a teenage daughter. He runs a small but critically successful, but now in danger of commercially failing, ad agency, she teaches a choir. A series of unlikely planetological events line up, lightning strikes, and the following morning the two have apparently exchanged bodies. Cue effeminate-acting man and butch-acting woman. Not to mention total confusion over their respective careers. Which, of course, all comes good in the end: he (ie, Helena) lands a major contract for a difficult lingerie client because “he” can put together a campaign that will appeal to women; she (ie, Claudio), on the other hand, finds the chosen choral music boring and livens it up a bit, to great success. Naturally, their rocky marriage is steadied, and Claudio’s business is saved. The sequel is set a couple of years later, and the marriage is once again wobbling, especially when Claudio decides a second honeymoon to Italy is out of the question as his business needs him. She throws him out, and he goes to stay with a friend, who is single and has less than progressive ideas about women. Which eventually results in one of those situations so beloved of marital drama films – he is standinging outside a nightclub, perfectly innocently, with a drunken female friend of his mate, when his wife spots him and assumes the worst. And then their daughter tells them she is pregnant. The father-to-be is a good catch, a millionaire’s son, but the family are very Catholic… so a wedding must be arranged quickly. And lo, the planets align once again, and bodies are swapped. She (ie, Claudio) is against the marriage, she (ie, Helena) is for it… The first film wasn’t great, and this one is much weaker. There is apparently a third film in the series. I won’t be bothering with it.

Dr Strange, Scott Derrickson (2016, USA). I don’t know why I continue to subject myself to MCU films. I think they’re awful, badly-made populist trash, and even the high-powered cast they hire can do little redeem them. Not that Benchmark Cummerbund is a good actor. But Tilda Swinton normally does better work than this. So, for that matter, does Mads Mikkelson. An arrogant womanising surgeon has his brilliant career cut short when he badly damages his hands in a crash in his supercar. In desperation, he turns to– I don’t know, for some reason, against all sense, he ends up in an invented Himalayan nation, where he’s taken under the wing of an Eastern mystic played by a white woman, and so becomes an occult agent of her organisation, but based in New York. There are some scenes that were ripped straight from Inception, there’s a lot of mumbo-jumbo that’s hard to swallow even in a MCU film, and Strange’s journey from arrogant shit to good person is actually closer to a journey from arrogant shit who is a neurosurgeon to arrogant shit who is a magician. There are also some effective special effects – see earlier mention of Inception – but it would be a poor MCU film that didn’t have zillions spent on its sfx (and yet, the one MCU film I think is halfway okay, Captain America, has probably the least overt sfx on screen of them all; perhaps that means something). Now that Amazon are closing down LoveFilm, I’ll no longer have access to as many rental films, and I used to bung populist crap on there to watch on a weekend night with a glass of wine or two… But since I never really liked them, I’m not entirely sure why I bothered. Now at least I won’t have to. (Incidentally, I see Amazon have listed this movie as “Marvel’s Dr Strange“, which is obvs to distinguish it from, er, Marvel’s other Dr Strange…)

Utolsó vacsora az Arabs Szürkénél, Miklós Jancsó (2001, Hungary). And so the third of Jancsó’s Kapa & Pepe films, and I’m even more confused than I was before. The film opens with the two characters waking up on a statue on top of the Millennium Monument in Budapest’s Heroes’ Square after a heavy night of drinking. There are some scenes set in an abandoned half-built building, including several shoot-outs between the two main characters and various gangsters. There’s a punk band in silly costumes, and a woman being pleasured by several young men. There’s a troupe of dancers who perform a traditional Hungarian folk dance (judging by the costumes). And then Kapa and Pepe are in the USA, visiting Niagara Falls, where they bump into… Miklós Jancsó. And they’re surprised to see him because they thought he was dead – although I seem to remember he did re-appear in the first film, Nekem lámpást adott kezembe az Úr Pesten (see here), after he had died in that film… And I have no fucking clue what is going on in these films. There’s definitely an argument against the trappings of capitalist society, and its attendant ruthlessness and fascination with symbols of success, not to mention several discussions about death. The dialogue is thick with swearwords and the musical interludes bonkers. Lots of scenes are also set on high places – Jancsó obviously liked his crane shots – and some are just a little too high for my comfort. The second time I came to watch this film, the transfer seemed much lower quality than I remembered it. It’s definitely lower quality than the previous two films. Weird. I’m going to have to watch it again some time, though, that’s for sure. Um, in a previous Moving pictures post I wondered about doing a themed post… I usually write about six films per post; there are six films in the Kapa & Pepe series… There’s an idea. Although I may end up a gibbering wreck afterwards.

Two Years at Sea, Ben Rivers (2011, UK). Part of Rivers’s creative process is developing his 16mm film himself, in less than laboratory-like conditions. It makes the medium of his movies an artefact of the narrative, in much the same way that Aleksandr Sokurov, a favourite director, often distorts the picture of his movies, as in Mother and Son (see here) or Whispering Pages (see here). But while Sokurov deliberately distorts the image to produce a specific effect, Rivers allows the development process which turns the images captured by the camera into a record which can be viewed by anyone, to apply its own distortions. They are not, it has to be said, as overt – a graininess to the picture, the odd blink-and-miss-it flaw in the film… But the way Rivers shoots, or has shot certainly in this film, which is entirely black and white, also results in a slight flattening of the image, giving Two Years at Sea a look close to that of a photograph from the first half of the twentieth century. He also lets his camera linger for long moments on static scenes – although not to the extent James Benning does – which also reminds me of several Sokurov films (but I don’t think it’s a direct reference, more a commonality of approach). As for the plot… well, there isn’t one. Two Years at Sea documents a period in the life of Jake Williams, who lives in a beat-up house in the countryside in Scotland. The film makes much of his surroundings, watching clouds drift across hills, steam rise from forests, without telling us anything about Williams or his life. It is art, not narrative cinema. But, at 127 minutes, it’s too long to be a video installation. And besides, it’s partly fictional anyway, because it’s not an actual documentary of Williams and his life, never mind the sequence where his caravan floats up into the air… Which makes you wonder what Two Years at Sea is intended to be – for a video installation endlessly looped, well, 20 minutes is probably long enough, although I’ve a feeling Richard Mosse’s ‘Infra’ may be much longer… But over two hours is too long for a video installation, that’s cinema. But not cinema as it is commonly understood. I love this sort of stuff, so buying all of Rivers’s available output was a totally good call for me – and Two Years at Sea totally justified it. I will be following Rivers’s career from now on. And I thnk I might dig a bit deeper into video installations, instead of just relying on random visits to contemporary art museums during random visits to Nordic capital cities…

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die count: 879


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Boxsets!

Well, not really. Only two box sets. And these days the word tends to be used more in reference to seasons/series of television dramas. My box sets are collections of films, and in this post, it’s the two by Godard…

Both the 10-DVD collection (French-published, but with English subtitles) and the 14-DVD collection were purchased from third party sellers on a large online retailer’s website. I’m currently working my way through the 10-DVD set. And I’m starting to really appreciate Godard’s movies.

Three Blu-rays. Nosferatu and Hawks & Sparrows / Pigsty I bought from eureka! during a recent sale. I also pre-ordered the new edition of Metropolis, but that has yet to arrive. Privilege I bought after watching it on rental because I wanted my own copy (see here).

Actually, there’s another box set in this post: Japanese Masters, bought on eBay, which contains two films by Yasujiro Ozu – Floating Weeds and The End of Summer – and two by Kenji Mizoguchi – The Life of Oharu and The Lady of Musashino. I already have Floating Weeds, but The End of Summer is no longer available. Container is Lukas Moodysson’s experimental film. I watched it several years ago, but decided it needed a second try – so I bought a cheap copy off eBay. Joi Baba Felunath popped up on eBay and I thought it was a hard-to-find film but it turns out it’s in the Satyajit Ray Collection Volume 2. Oh well. And Footprints on the Moon I watched on rental, but I liked it so much I bought my own copy (see here).

A bunch of out-of-copyright films bought on eBay, of varying quality, both of the transfer and the film itself. I forget why I bought most of them, but they are: Sleep, My Love (forgettable Sirk thriller, see here), Black Tights (anthology film of ballet routines, terrible transfer), Beneath the 12-mile Reef (unmemorable Robert Wagner drama about sponge divers), The One-Eyed Soldiers (bad Euro-thriller set in invented Balkan country) and Long John SilverThe Secret of My Success (terrible sixties British comedy), and Criminal Affair (dreadful Italian thriller, directed by and starring one of the stars of South Pacific, another poor transfer too).


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Wonderful wonderful– er, fantastic fantastic Copenhagen

So the big project at work that was supposed to end on September 1st… didn’t. A month before, they realised they weren’t going to hit the deadline, and so rebased all their plans. Which meant I was now free for the first weekend in September, the date of Fantasticon, an annual science fiction convention in Copenhagen. I mentioned it in passing to my boss, told her it was doable, if expensive, and she said go for it, I needed to use up some holidays anyway. Which is why, on pretty much a week’s notice, I booked a flight and a hotel room, and flew to Denmark to attend Fantasticon 2017.

I flew out on the Thursday night, as it was easier and cheaper than a Friday flight, although it meant an extra night in the hotel (which, er, wasn’t cheaper…). Usually, when I fly to Denmark, I go EasyJet, but this time I flew SAS, and it was a much better experience. I landed just after 9 pm, topped up my Copenhagen travel card, and caught the train from the airport to the city’s main railway station. My hotel was on Vesterbrogade, about 800 metres from the station. There are a lot of hotels on Vesterbrogade, which meant a lot of tourists, dragging their suitcases along the pavements, which were restricted because of roadworks. When I landed in Denmark, I’d switched my mobile back on and learnt I had two voicemails. Once I was in my hotel room, I listened to them. The first was from work; the second was from my bank… asking me to ring them on their fraud prevention line. I called them, demanding to know what was going on – they’d wanted to cancel my debit card two days before I flew to Helsinki for Worldcon75, but I’d persuaded them to hold off, and on my return they’d cancelled my card and sent me a new one… and now this new one had been compromised, even though I’d had it less than a week. I got a bit shouty. The bloke on the other end of the phone said, we haven’t left you a voicemail today, that one was from 16 August. Oops. It was an old message about my old card, and had got stuck in Vodafone’s voicemail system. I apologised for my outburst.

The view from my hotel window

Fantasticon 2017 didn’t start until 4 pm, so I had most of Friday free. I rang my sister, Kay, who lives just north of Copenhagen, and we agreed to meet up for lunch. I went for a wander in the Indre By, and managed to navigate my way to Faraos Cigarer, with a bit of help from my phone. I’d last visited there at Christmas, but the shop had greatly expanded. Downstairs had been English-language and upstairs Danish-language. Now, it was all English (there was a new Danish-language shop across the road), with novels and manga downstairs, and graphic novels upstairs. I met up with my sister outside the Rådhus, and we went looking for somewhere to eat. The first place, the waitress gave us a blank look when I asked what was dairy-free on the menu. She checked with the chef. I could have the salad. It seemed Copenhagen was going through a brioche phase and all sandwiches were made with bread that contained milk. We left. The second place we tried, the menu was just as unwelcoming, but the guy behind the bar (he appeared to be the only person serving) made an effort and produced two club sandwiches without dairy for us. Danish club sandwiches are not like club sandwiches in the rest of the world. They’re not triple-decker sandwiches with egg, bacon, chicken, salad, etc; they’re hot sandwiches containing chicken breast in curry mayonnaise, often with pesto. But then the Danish don’t call danishes danishes either. (They call them Viennese pastries.)

The Rådhus

After lunch I returned to my hotel to wait for the con to begin. At 3 pm, someone from the con posted on Facebook that the doors were open, so I made my way to Frederiksberg, 800 metres from my hotel in the opposite direction to the railway station, and the Serapion Order, the venue for Fantasticon. I was a bit early. I walked in and the only three people there were Sanna, Bende and Flemming, all of whom were involved in organising the con. (I’d met both Sanna and Flemming at Swecons previously.) So I checked out the venue until the opening ceremony started. More people began to arrive, including a few Swedish fans, Carolina, Thomas and Johan. There was also a Finnish fan at the con, Linn, who was a NOFF candidate. The opening ceremony consisted of Flemming welcoming everyone to the con, apologising that the GoHs – Nina Allan and Christopher Priest – had not yet arrived (their plane was landing as he spoke, he told us), and then mentioning several upcoming cons (including Icecon 2 next year and the worldcon in Dublin in 2019). Later that night, I sat through Jesper Stage’s entertaining, and very dry, talk on the economics of colonisation in fantasy and science fiction. The venue closed at ten. I left with Jesper Rugård, and as I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, we stopped at a posh burger place on Vesterbrogade. They actually had an allergy sheet for their menu.

The Serapion Order

The next morning, after a big breakfast (sadly, no gherkins), I headed to the Serapion Order about 11 am. I spent most of the day talking with friends, and attended two programme items – a GoH interview with Nina Allan, and a panel on the New Wave. The con was much busier than the day before – not just with day members, but half a dozen invited guests had also turned up to give talks or sit on panels. That evening the con laid on a buffet – they’d assured me there’d be some lactose-free food available, so I’d bought a ticket for it. In the event, the chef turned out to have a daughter who was lactose-intolerant, so he made everything using lactose-free ingredients. The dinner was excellent. Again, the venue closed at ten. Most people went home, but half a dozen of us – Jesper R, Lars, Linn, Sanna, Fia and myself – headed for a bar called the Mikkeller. It turned out to be just around the corner from my hotel. Fia, Sanna and me carried on until 1 am, before calling it a night.

Nina Allan interview

I didn’t bother with breakfast on the Sunday, and had a lie-in until 9 am instead. On my way to the con, I stopped in Irma, a supermarket, and bought a sandwich and a small bottle of orange juice with chilli, which proved to be horrible. I nipped to another supermarket, Fotex, to buy a sandwich and a drink at lunchtime. (It was the same sandwich both times, chicken and bacon, which was the only dairy-free one I could find.) I attended a panel on “Will the real science fiction please stand up?”, with both GoHs, which mostly discussed the Clarke Award and the Sharkes. At 4 pm was my only panel of the con, added at the last minute when I bought an attending membership, on “Manned space flight in the past and in the future”, moderated by Flemming, with Asmus Koefoed, Klaus Æ Mogensen, and myself. It was a bit of a free-form discussion – perhaps too free, I noticed Chris Priest nodding off in the front row at times, although apparently something we said has given Nina “the key inspiration for my next novel” (according to her blog).

The end of the con

Fantasticon 2017 ended after the closing ceremony. There was a dead dog party planned, but not in Frederiksberg near the venue. Instead, they’d booked tables at the bar used in previous Fantasticons in Valby, a ten-minute bus ride away. I’d planned to head straight for my sister’s, bus since I had a travel card, I decided I might as well have a couple of beers first. So I caught the bus with the rest of the fans. I also had some food while I was there (fish and chips! I go all the way to Denmark and I have fish and chips!). I left to catch the 19:44 train but, in a weird repeat of Worldcon75, I arrived on the platform just as the train was pulling away. Fortunately, it wasn’t the last one of the night, and I only had to wait ten minutes before another came along. If I’d caught the train I missed, I’d have changed at Østerport and arrived at Skodsborg at 20:39. But the train I actually caught meant I had to change at Copenhagen main railway station, and I got lucky with my connections, and actually arrived at Skodsborg 20 minutes earlier than the earlier train would have got me. Danish trains are good – covered in graffiti, bizarrely – but the timetable is a bit variable.

I spent the night at my sister’s, saw my brother-in-law and my nephews. I’d originally intended to stay a couple of days in Denmark after the con, but in the end booked a flight on the Monday night. And unfortunately, museums are closed in Copenhagen on Mondays. Plenty of people had told me the best coffee in Copenhagen is in Arnold Busck, a book shop, which I already knew, since I go there at least once every Christmas. People had also mentioned Fantask, Copenhagen’s first comics/sf shop, to me, so I dragged Kay there after we’d finished our coffees. I walked into the shop… and there was Sanna. I didn’t buy anything, however. Me and Kay ate lunch in Palæo, which sells grain-free food (most of which is also  dairy-free).

Fantask

After a couple of hours back at Kay’s, I caught the train to the airport. I got a bite to eat in the airport – these days airports are all about the shops, with far too few places to just sit down and relax. And it’s ridiculous shops too – Gucci watches, £50 pairs of tights, Victoria’s Secret… Yes, food, toiletries, books and magazines, these are all useful… but you have to wonder if some of the shops take in enough to cover their rent. And I’d much sooner have somewhere to sit. The flight back to the UK on a tiny aircraft, an 88-seater Bombardier CRJ900, was uneventful. Instead of relying on the vagaries of the British railway network at 9 pm at night, I’d pre-ordered a taxi from an online website. They’d emailed me the driver’s telephone number, and I rang him once I was through the e-passport gates. Manchester was, bizarrely, extremely humid. The minicab turned up 5 minutes later, and drove me home. I think in future, when I travel to Nordic cons, I might fly later in the day and take a taxi home. It was a lot less stressful.

It was all a bit sudden, but I’m glad I made it to Fantasticon. Jesper reckoned they’d had about 65 paying members over the weekend, and certainly the two rooms used for the programme were often only a quarter full. The venue, the Serapion Order – it’s some sort of Masonic order, with lodges throughout Denmark – was surprisingly good. A bottle of beer for only 25 Kr! (That’s £3.) I didn’t try any of the sandwiches they had for sale, but the buffet on the Saturday night was very good indeed. I met a bunch of Danish fans, not just the ones already mentioned, but also Knud, Jan, Klaus, and several others whose name I didn’t catch. It was also good to chat with Nina and Chris, although the con kept them busy over the weekend. The programme items I went to could have done with a little more preparation – and I include myself and the one I was on – but none were boring. A date hasn’t been set for Fantasticon next year, although it’s likely to be the first weekend in September. Nor have they decided on GoHs. But if I’m free that weekend, I’ll probably go again (but I’ll book everything well in advance so it’s not so expensive).

I’ve now been to conventions in four of the five Nordic countries, only Norway is left. True, the cons I went to in Finland were a Nordic con and a worldcon, so neither were actually Finnish conventions. But there’s always Åcon or Finncon. Swecon next year is back in Stockholm, at the Dieselverkstaden in Sickla. Assuming work doesn’t get in the way, I plan to be there – it’ll be my third Fantastika there. And, as previously mentioned, there’s going to be a second Icecon in Reykjavik in October next year. The first one was excellent, so I’m definitely up for that.


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Moving pictures 2017, #46

A better mix of countries this time, including my first film from Lithuania. And, er, three French films. (The gap since my last blog post is because I spent the weekend in Copenhagen at Fantasticon. There’ll be a blog post on the con appearing here soon.)

Romeos, Sabine Bernadi (2011, Germany). Not sure how I got sent this one. I added it to my rental list obvs. But I don’t recall why I added it to my list. I probably saw a trailer for it on another disc. Lukas is a transman, assigned to a nurses’ home for his national service/community service because his paperwork still has him as female. Through a friend – who knew Lukas before he transitioned – he meets a bunch of people, including Fabio. Lukas falls in love with Fabio, but can’t tell him about his situation. Which makes things a bit awkward. Like when they go for a picnic at a lake near Köln, and Lukas can’t strip down to his swimwear because he’s on hormones but has had no surgery. I’m not sure what to make of this film – it felt like a sympathetic portrayal to me, but I’m in no real position to judge. Lukas was played by a male actor, with prostheses, and he seemed convincing in the role. Although the plot revolves around Fabio’s reaction to the fact Lukas is a transman, Lukas experiences very little prejudice, and most of that is bureaucratic. The female nurse think his presence among them is all a bit of joke, and when he does move to the male dorm his reaction to their slobbishness is a bit of a cliché. I enjoyed it.

You Can’t Escape Lithuania, Romas Zabarauskas (2016, Lithuania). I rented this film because it was Lithuanian, and I’d not seen a film from Lithuania before. And clearly, from the title, it takes place in Lithuania. The film stars an actor playing the director, Zabarauskas, who helps a famous actor friend flee Lithuania after she has murdered her mother. But their road trip to the border turns all avant garde, with colour filters and long philosophical voiceovers in English. Meanwhile Denisas Kolomyckis plays Zabarauskas as an arrogant rich kid with a higher opinion of his own talent than anyone else – at a press conference, for example, he refuses to answer questions as he has not prepared answers, and instead monologues. And yet it all works. The avant garde felt a bit Malick-ish, which would normally be a big turn-off, but they didn’t outstay their welcome and they seemed to contrast well with the main narrative. An interesting film, if not a great one, and I suspect Zabarauskas might be a name to watch.

Personal Shopper, Olivier Assayas (2016, France). You never really know what you’re going to get with an Assayas film. I’ve watched a number of them and they’ve all been very… different. I wasn’t all that keen on his last one, Clouds of Sils Maria (see here), which also had Kristen Stewart in a lead role, but Personal Shopper is much better, despite being a less straightforward film. Stewart plays the title role, a personal shopper for a Dutch celebrity. Her twin brother died recently, and she has been trying to contact his spirit at his house in Paris, at the urging of the house’s new owners. On a trip to London to pick up clothes for her celeb, Stewart witnesses some ghostly events, and is contacted by an anonymous person by text. Then Stewart’s employer is murdered. The two stories feel unconnected: Stewart’s visions of her brother’s ghost, and the murder of her celeb. In fact, other than to ratchet up the tension, I’ve no real idea what the point of the murder is. The murderer is quickly identified, and captured by the police. The film’s focus is clearly on Stewart and her her “relationship” with her late brother.

Swiss Army Man, Daniel Scheinert & Daniel Kwan (2016, USA). See that quote from Empire on the DVD cover, “Hilarious”? That’s a fucking lie, that is. This film isn’t the slightest bit amusing – but you can imagine the director and screenwriter giggling like fratboys as they go through the script. It’s not typical fratboy humour, that’s true, more nerd fratboy humour. Still not funny, though. A man, Paul Dano, is marooned on a desert island. One day a dead body – Daniel Radcliffe – washes up on shore. When Dano notices that the corpse breaks wind frequently, he uses it like a jetski to escape the island. As he travels, he discovers the body is also good for catching a raintwater in its mouth, and that it is slowly beginning to talk. They reach the mainland, and begin making their way through the wilderness to civilisation, Dano dragging Radcliffe. As the film progresses, so Radcliffe becomes more sentient, and more useful. Dano discusses a woman he used to lust after on his daily commute, but he never had the courage to approach her. The two act out an invented romance between the two. This is the sort of the film whose story might be mildly amusing if told down the pub over a ten minutes or so after more than a few beers. But as a feature film, it sucks. The humour was juvenile at best, the attitude to women about the same, and by the tom the film finished, I was annoyed I’d wasted a spot on my rental list on it. Avoid.

Sauve qui peut, Jean-Luc Godard (1980, France). So my finger slipped one night while I was enjoying a nice glass bottle of Shiraz, and before you know it I’d gone and bought a 10-DVD box set of Jean-Luc Godard films and a 13-DVD box set of Jean-Luc Godard films. This is from the 10-DVD collection. I have a lot of time for Godard as a filmmaker, if not for some of his individual works. But I think he rewards re-watching, and I don’t think splashing out on a pair of his box sets was a waste of money. And yet… it’s not always easy to understand what he’s trying to achieve with a specific film. Technically, he’s never come across as more than proficient, although he uses slow-motion as a form of decompression in this movie and I think it’s among the first uses of it (for an especially good use of the technique see Dredd). But Godard’s drive to break film boundaries does sometimes render his movies an uncomfortable experience. Okay, so when he’s playing around with narrative structures, as in Film Socialisme and Goodbye to Language, or even Hélas pour moi, that’s one thing. But Sauve qui peut, which is apparently his return to “mainstream” film-making after a period of left-wing experimental films is… a bit borderline. It’s not that Huppert plays a sex worker in the third of its four stories, if only because Huppert is brilliant in everything – but that the acts of violence against women, or the scene in which a father at a kids’ football match discusses the sexual appeal of his young daughter… seem to serve no real narrative purpose. And the narrative itself is far from straightforward – I very much doubt Godard has read Story, and I suspect he would reject its philosophy anyway – as should any real artist, of any medium, mode or genre. But overall, Sauve qui peut feels like a film that knows where it’s going but isn’t entirely sure how to get there…

Tout va bien, Jean-Luc Godard (1972, France). An opening title card helpfully informs the viewer this film is set in May 1968, which was a period of great civil unrest in France. A group of striking workers at a sausage factory have occupied the offices of their employer, locking the manager in his office and preventing him from using the toilet. Also caught up in events is an American reporter (Jane Fonda) and her French husband. The set of the offices is designed like a doll’s house, with each room visible from an outside viewpoint, so the camera can move back and forth, taking one or more rooms at a time – the technique was first used in Jerry Lewis’s The Ladies Man (an excrutiatingly bad comedy from 1961). Tout va bien then moves outside the factory, and discusses the political and social context surrounding the strike, usually through direct addresses to camera. Fonda’s husband, Yves Montand, is a film director from the New Wave, who now makes commercials, and his reasons for doing so – as explained to camera – are clearly more for his own peace of mind than to inform the viewer. There are scenes of rioting, shoppers in a large supermarket, new construction work, all observed by either Fonda, Montand or both – in places, Tout va bien feels like Godard’s response to Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451. I don’t know if Tout va bien qualifies as one of the “left-wing experimental films” mentioned above – it certainly qualifies as the former, but some of his other films feel to me more experimental. There’s a poetry and, perversely, an energy to the shots Godard frames, but the accompanying commentary is often banal. I don’t know if this is because we’re more cynical these days – and cynicism does seem incompatible with idealism, and the French were famously idealistic in May 1968… Time has not been kind to the observations made in Tout va bien, even if the sentiments still hold true for those of us who aren’t self-entitled self-rightous right-wing pricks = but the visuals are still striking, albeit chiefly because they’re very much of their time. A film worth seeing, and one that will stand up to rewatching, even though it’s a movie that could only have been made in the late sixties or early seventies…

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die count: 879


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Moving pictures 2017, #45

Bit of a USA-fest this time. Not sure how that happened. Bit of a mixed bag quality-wise, however. Mars and the Pasolini I bought, but the rest were rentals.

Mars (2016, USA). This six-part mini-series for National Geographic – the National Geographic? – was apparently executive produced by Ron Howard, although I’m not entirely sure what that means he did. It depicts a serious attempt, in 2033, to set up a colony on Mars somewhere in the Valles Marineris. Six international astronauts are sent on a spacecraft funded by a consortium of private and public interests, with a base camp already set up remotely and awaiting their arrival. But their lander misses its assigned landing spot, and they have to trek across the Martian surface to the base camp. Which presents a problem, as they were supopsed to live in the lander until the camp was up and running. In fact, the Mars mission is just one long litany of disasters. None are serious enough to kill everyone, but it’s a bit like Apollo 13 every week, with something killing one or more of the colonists (a second mission arrives in episode 4, set four years after landing), or jeopardising the colony’s future. Clearly, they’re making the point that colonising Mars is a dangerous business – and judging by the Earth-set scenes, a hugely expensive business – but, like The Martian, the series is in danger of basing its entire narrative on manufactured jeopardy. Alongside this, or rather interspersed with this, is documentary footage about… SpaceX. Obviously, they provided some of the funding for the series. Elon Musk appears several times, discussing his dream of colonising Mars. The rest feels like a SpaceX infomercial. And yet… the production values are high, the Martian mission is convincing, the euro-cast are mostly good in their roles, and the end result is something which feels a good deal more plausible than The Martian. I’m not sure what I was expecting when I bought this, but it’s actually not that bad. One for those mostly interested in the topic, perhaps, but a good deal more intelligent than a certain feature film…

Suicide Squad, David Ayers (2016, USA). These are DC, right? Not Marvel. I get confused sometimes. One guy in tights looks much like another, one implausibly pneumatic woman looks much like another implausibly pneumatic woman. But the Joker is in this, and he’s from Batman, so I guess this must be DC. And, to be honest, when it came to reading comics, which I never did much as a kid, I tended to read Marvel more than DC. I still have a soft spot for the original Guardians of the Galaxy, for example (not the crappy rewritten version they made the crappy movie about). But I can’t say any DC hero, or villain, ever appealed me the same way. The Suicide Squad, a group of captured villains forced to work for a secret arm of the US government – like they need to do shit like that, when they have “security contractors” like Blackwater – includes a whole two villains I’ve heard of before, the Joker and Harlequin, and that’s only because they’re part of the Batman mythos. The rest are nobodies. And they’re all in prison. And then are taken out by the aforementioned secret government department, and sent to New York or maybe Chicago to fight the zombies created by an Ancient Egyptian sorceress or something who was, I seem to remember, one of the inmates, and who would not have been freed had they not freed them all to fight, er, her. I don’t know. Maybe that’s wrong. I zoned out during this movie because it was very dull. The cast had zero chemistry – Jared Leto’s Joker felt like a bad Halloween costume – and the plot was the usual nonsense about magical villain attacking metropolitan centre and needing to be defeated by superpowered forces. Suicide Squad does not have a good rep, and it’s easy to see why: it is not good. Watchmen is a better film; anything made by Zack Snyder is a better film (and it hurts to make that admission). This is, as Monty Python once said, one for laying down and avoiding.

Kal Ho Naa Ho, Nikhil Advani (2003, India). Bollywood has this knack – or perhaps it’s a philosophy – of turning even the most downer of stories into a film that will have the viewer smiling by the end. Kal Ho Naa Ho (the title means Tomorrow May Never Come) is a perfect example. It’s set in New York, not India. A young woman, Naina, has reached marriageable age but is not all that keen on marrying. Which is where Shahrukh Khan comes on the scene. But rather than present himself as a romantic rival for Naina, he encourages the relationship between Naina and her fellow MBA student, Rohit. And although there’s some initial confusion over who’s wooing who, it all gets sorted out with some singing and dancing, only for Khan to then reveal he’s terminally ill. I tweeted while watching this that the opening song sampled Roy Orbison’s ‘Pretty Woman’, and actually made a good job of it… and was surprised whem a Finnish friend correctly identified the film. I shouldn’t have been, of course – they watch more than just Kaurismäki up there, obviously – but most of the conversations I’ve had about Bollywood have been with Indian colleagues (I’m not sure which surprises them most: that I watch, and like, Bollywood films, or that I don’t like cricket…). Kal Ho Naa Ho was a really entertaining film. Either I’ve been very lucky with my Bollywood picks so far – and that seems unlikely, given I’ve watched several historical ones as well – but I’ve enjoyed more of them than I have recent Hollywood films – which is not to say there haven’t been a couple of stinkers, because there have; but on the whole, I’ve found Bollywood films I’ve watched in general considerably less annoying than recent Hollywood ones.

Hawks and Sparrows, Pier Paolo Pasolini (1966, Italy). There was a sale on the eureka! website, and a new – and more complete! – edition of Metropolis available for pre-order, so I embiggened my order of the latter with a couple of discounted titles… including this one. It’s early Pasolini. As should have become evident throughout this year’s Moving pictures posts, I’ve turned into a bit of a fan of Pasolini’s films, and while the sheer bizarreness of the costumes and settings of movies like Arabian Nights and Medea plugs into a long-running fascination of mine. I suspect I find his earlier movies – well, except for the Antonioni-esque Theorem – only to my liking because they seem like pastiches of Italian Neorealism, a cinematic genre of which I’m not overly fond. Hawks and Sparrows is about two itinerants who wander the Italian countryside looking for work and sustenance. En route, they meet a talking crow, who tells them of two Franciscan friars who were told to preach the Gospel to the hawks and sparrows. The friars eventually learn to understand the birds, but cannot persuade them to change their ways. This is all acted out in flashback, with Nanetto Davoli, Pasolini’s partner, and famous Italian comic actor Totò, as both the itinerants and the friars. (Totò turned out to be the illegitimate son of a Neopolitan noble, and was later recognised as a legitimate heir, so his real full name is a right mouthful: Antonio Griffo Focas Flavio Angelo Ducas Comneno Porfirogenito Gagliardi De Curtis di Bisanzio. Still wonder why we need the upper classes?) Hawks and Sparrows has its moments – there are some good comic scenes, and the joke which drives the plot is not over-played. It’s not the sort of Pasolini film I really like, but it’s worth seeing nonetheless.

Glory*, Edward Zwick (1989, USA). This I had marked down as one of those “chore movies” that I have to watch because it’s on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list but don’t expect to enjoy. And yet, I did enjoy it. I thought it quite good, in fact. Matthew Broderick, who manages to look fifteen throughout the film, despite playing a character in his twenties, a real historical character, is a Yankee captain who is put in command of the 54th Regiment Massuchusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first all-black regiment in the Union army. Although Broderick’s character takes his responsibilities seriously, everyone else seems to think it’s a bit of a joke. The POC characters in the regiment are all drawn a bit broadly, perhaps even as stereotypes, but they certainly make the point that that only difference between the 54th Regiment and any other regiment is skin colour. Given the current fuss about the Confederacy – they were fucking racist fucking slave owners, FFS, it has nothing to do with erasing history and everything to do with recognising historical crimes, because, let’s face it, and you’d have to be an evil piece of shit to say otherwise, slavery was a horrible crime and there’s no defending it. Glory I had expected to be well-meaning rather than good drama – which I don’t have a problem with, least of all with the topic it covers – but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it actually manages to make a decent fist of its story. The 54th Regiment were, ultimately, a failure, but they led the way for many more all-black regiments, most of which went on to serve with distinction during the American Civil War. Glory is a well-made film, and while that’s not enough for it, for me, to make the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, it does cover an interesting incident in US history, and does it well, but, more than that, it covers a topic that should be more widely know. So, yes, I think it deserves its place on the list.

Arrival, Denis Villeneuve (2016, USA). If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few years, it’s that when social media praises a science fiction film, chances are I won’t be all that impressed. The reverse doesn’t always hold true – if they hate a film, I might like it, but I’ll probably agree with their take on it (or at least agree with their opinion of it, but for slightly different reasons). Arrival, as no doubt everyone knows, proved very popular in genre fandom. It even won a Hugo Award. So I had hopes for it (especially since LoveFilm had sent it to me just before I left for Finland, so I knew I had it waiting for me when I returned from Worldcon75). The story is adapted from a Ted Chiang short story, ‘Story of Your Life’. Chiang is a far from prolific writer whose fiction many people in genre are greatly enamoured of. He famously withdrew a novella from the Hugo because he didn’t think it was good enough. He must have a warped idea of the Hugos, then… And – unpopular opinion time – I don’t think he’s actually that good. His reputation is over-stated. And ‘Story of Your Life’ is not even one of his best stories. Or one that would seem obvious adaptation material. Which undoubtedly explains why the film is so poor. Ignoring the fact Villeneuve chose to frame, and shoot, it as warmed-over Malick (not a beneficial comparision, to my mind), the whole story is based on a conceit that simply isn’t justified by the narrative. The big reveal appears to be that the flashbacks are actually flashforwards, which only works because Amy Adams’s character is so poorly drawn the audience can’t tell the difference. The iconography used for the alien alphabet is effective, but doesn’t support the mid-film bolt-from-the-blue that it is not chronologically linear. In fact, there’s nothing in the film to support that except Adams’s voiceover. Am I surprised Arrival won the Hugo? No. The Hugo voters have notoriously bad taste in movies, and will vote for any Hollywood movie that looks like it possesses more than half a brain cell. It was, to be honest, the best film on the shortlist. But it was a piss poor shortlist.

1001 Movies You Must see Before You Die count: 879