More Amazon Prime viewing. The Blu-rays I brought with me are still in their shrinkwrap, sitting on a shelf across the room and mocking me. Currently, my viewing comprises assorted series from Swedish TV, such as Midsomer Murders (it’s worse than I thought), Antiques Road Trip, Murder She Wrote (known here as Mord och inga visor, Murder without evidence) and NCIS: New Orleans (which is even less believable than all the other NCIS franchises put together). On Amazon Prime, I’ve been watching Andromeda, which is a bit like a TV adaptation of a campaign for a space opera role-playing game played by fourteen-year-olds…
Fortunately, I’ve managed to find some halfway decent – and some quite excellent – movies to watch to keep me sane. And, of course, I’ve been reading books… although I’ve no idea why I decided to reread the Wheel of Time just because I have the whole series on my Kindle (courtesy of Worldcon75) and The Eye of the World is so bad it’s doing my head in…
The Eagle Huntress, Otto Bell (2016, Kazakhstan). The Mongolian nomads in the Altai Mountains use eagles to hunt, particularly foxes, as hunting eagles is now considered more of a traditional sport than a survival skill. Aisholpan is thirteen years old, and she wants to be an eagle hunter. But it has always been the preserve of men. Her father is happy to train her because he thinks she has a real gift for it. Together, they capture an eaglet, which she then trains to hunt with her. She enters the annual eagle hunting competition at Ulgii… and wins. But her critics refuse to consider her a real hunter until she has caught a fox in the mountains. Which she then does. It’s a well-travelled narrative – girl wants to follow traditionally male occupation, demonstrates gender barrier is entirely arbitrary, and even excels at it… But it’s a story that bears telling over and over again. Because some men just do not get it. Women can do everything men can do. And when any man says that some thing is not for women, whether it’s hunting with eagles or programming computers or flying jet fighters, then that’s nothing more than sexism. The fact Aisholpan wins the eagle hunting competition – and okay, the judges might have cut her some slack on some of the events because of her age and gender, but her eagle actually broke competition records in other events – only demonstrates that any gender bar to the sport is complete nonsense. Anyway, The Eagle Huntress is beautifully shot, does an excellent job of presenting the people it documents, and tells a heart-warming story that should be better known. Recommended.
The History of Time Travel, Ricky Kennedy (2014, USA). It seems like an obvious conceit, and the most obvious example of it is the Back to the Future movies, but I don’t think time travel has been given the mockumentary treatment before, particularly time travel that keeps on changing its own history. The History of Time Travel opens with a factual account of the discovery of time travel – it only works to the past, not to the future – by a scientist and a wound-down WWII research project sometime during the 1960s. But the invention proves of little use. There’s some discussion of the Grandfather Paradox, and the ethics of interfering in the past… exemplified by the inventor travelling back in time to save his mother from dying when she gave birth to him… And the mockumentary then continues on from a point where two brothers invented time travel in the 1980s… and one of the went back in time to prevent their mother from dying in a car crash… And with each attempt to change the past, a new present is formed, their effects mostly confined to those associated with the inventors but occasionally spreading out further – leading in one timeline to the event depicted on the poster. And even to a time war between the US and USSR. The History of Time Travel is a shoestring affair, but they’ve taken care over making sure the script is consistent and logical, and that does them credit. Some of the “archive footage” is effectively done, even if the acting isn’t brilliant, and the continual rewriting of history as one or the other or both of the brothers goes back in time to save their mother or father actually works quite well. To be honest, I’d sooner see films like The History of Time Travel – made on the cheap, by people who were clearly invested in it and in science fiction – on the Hugo Award shortlist than some multi-zillion dollar semi-fascist Hollywood MCU tripe. But then the Hugo Award’s dramatic presentation categories have always been both a complete waste of time and a trash fire.
I Remember You, Óskar Thór Axelsson (2017, Iceland). This opens like a fairly typical Nordic noir, with a body found in a church, hanged, with crosses carved into her back. The policewoman investigating the case links it to the disappearance of a boy decades earlier. She finds a photo showing him with eight of his classmates, six of whom have since died in mysterious accidents. And all with crosses carved into their backs. The policewoman is being helped a by a doctor, whose own young son disappeared a few years earlier during a game of hide and seek with friends. Meanwhile, a man and two women – one is his pregnant wife, but he’s having an affair with the other – are trying to turn an abandoned building in an abandoned whaling station on a small island into a B&B. Half of the films made on planet Earth… well, if they’re not about sons having father issues, they’re about fathers trying to deal with the loss – permanent or temporary – of their sons. And 99.9999% of the time it’s supremely uninteresting. I Remember You, however, actually folds the disappearance of the doctor’s son into its plot, it’s not just “motivation” or back-story. Because solving the disappearance from decades before eventually leads to the doctor learning what happened to his son. Despite all that, I Remember You is not straight-up Nordic noir, as many of those involved in the story at intervals, and not entirely clearly, see the first missing boy. The supernatural aspect adds to the noir, making the story even more tense and leaving some things unexplained. I Remember You took a while to get started, but it was definitely worth the wait. Recommended.
Kaashmora, Gokul (2016, India). This is not a Bollywood film, but a Tamil-language movie, so Kollywood. I’ve definitely seen Tollywood films (both Bengali and Telugu-language), but I don’t think I’ve seen any Kollywood films before. Anyway, Kaashmora is from Chennai and Wikipedia describes it as a “supernatural action comedy”, which isn’t far off the mark. The title refers to a TV celebrity ghost-hunter, who is actually a complete fake. A young woman wants to study him for her doctoral thesis. The two of them, plus a handful of relatives, all of whom, it transpires, were born under the same star sign, end up in a haunted palace – where centuries before a princess ran away with her lover, a prince of a rival kingdom, but was brought back by the king’s war hero general… who then murders the king, seizes the throne and takes the princess as his wife. But she kills him, but is killed by him. The two of them, plus twelve henchmen, have been haunting the palace ever since. And now Kaashamora, the doctoral student and assorted relatives, all born under the sing, are present ad the general can use them to lift the curse. Kaashmora starts out as a comedy, but the flashback explaining the back-story is a complete CGI action fest, and when all the principals are in the haunted palace, there’s CGI flying around all over the place, and it’s all quite gruesome but also very funny. Perhaps the film is over-long, but then Indian films do run longer than Western ones. I enjoyed it. Worth seeing.
Icebreaker, Nikolay Khomeriki (2017, Russia). Yes, I know, the DVD cover says The Icebreaker, but I’m pretty sure the credits of the version I watched simply called it Icebreaker. But then Russian doesn’t have articles anyway, so it doesn’t make any difference. The film is set in the 1980s, during the last years of the USSR. A Soviet icebreaker in the Antarctic (although I’m pretty sure at least one subtitle mistakenly referred to it as the Arctic) finds itself trapped after a close encounter with a huge iceberg. The captain is demoted, and a replacement sent out by helicopter. But the helicopter breaks down on landing, so now they’re all completely trapped. And the fuel is running out. The Soviet authorities promise a rescue mission, but they’re dragging their feet because someone in the ministry delayed the ship’s departure and that’s what ultimately created the current situation. You wouldn’t think there’d be all that much drama there – and certainly very little action – but Icebreaker manages to find plenty. I’ve no idea where they filmed it, but it looked very convincing. And it has a happy end, which actually comes as something of a surprise. The Russians have been churning out well-made commercial blockbusters for a number of years now – although, to be fair, even some of the older Soviet big budget commercial movies were worth seeing – and it’s a shame their distribution is so patchy outside the Russo-speaking world. But for Amazon Prime, I’d never have seen Icebreaker, or a number of other films like it, and even then I stumbled across it more by accident than by design. Worth seeing.
The Tundra Book, Aleksei Vakhrushev (2011, Russia). I’m not sure why I ended up watching two documentaries set in areas that were once part of the former Soviet Union. It just sort of worked out that way. Unlike The Eagle Huntress, however, The Tundra Book is set on the Chukchi Peninsula, in the far east of Russia and still part of the country. It’s a desolate place, and the most sparsely-inhabited region of Russia. The Tundra Book is about Vukvukai, a native of the region, who is in his seventies and leads an extended family that manages a herd of some fifteen thousand reindeer. And, er, that’s what the film is about. The cinematography is impressive, but the story isn’t very dramatic. Interesting, yes, but not dramatic. It’s a fascinating look at a way of life that’s about as far from my own as it is possible to imagine, but at 105 minutes it’s perhaps a longer than the subject matter needed. But still good.
1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die count: 939
ETA: I have it on good (Swedish) authority than “Murder without evidence” is a mis-translation of Mord och inga visor, which literally means “murder and no songs”, and is actually a pun on a Swedish expression ord och inga visor, “words and no songs”, which means “a harsh criticism”. Tack, Johan.