Tag Archives: Swedish

Movie Review: Lilya 4-Ever (2002)

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Rating: A-/ Prostitution is bad, okay, kids? Lukas Moodyson’s tale of a sixteen-year-old girl sold into sexual slavery will scare any man away from hiring a hooker much in the same way that Requiem for a Dream scared us away from heroin abuse. Much of it’s power relies on the performance of Oksana Akinshina as Lilya, a world-weary but somehow naive teen ekeing out an existence in a low-income Estonian suburb. Lilya’s mother (Lyubov Agapova) abandons her willful daughter at home to go run away with her boyfriend to a new life in the U.S., and her aunt (Liliya Shinkaryova) (a grade-a cunt if there ever was one) moves her niece into a complete shithole so she can live in relative comfort in Lilya and her mother’s apartment. In fact, Lilya’s only real lifeline is an abused adolescent named Volodya (Artyom Bogucharskiy,) who becomes her confidante and friend. Continue reading Movie Review: Lilya 4-Ever (2002)

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Together (2000)

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    Together is a comedy of small events and big characters, which is sure to have you laughing and cringing at the same time. The premise is a mix of the dramatic and absurd; the year is 1975, and Swedish housewife Elisabeth (Lisa Lindgren) is a downtrodden mother of two who gets smacked around by her alkie husband (Michael Nyqvist) (again.) So she grabs the kids, Stefan and Eva (Sam Kessel and Emma Samuelsson) and moves into her brother  Goran (Gustaf Hammarsten)’s commune.

No sooner has she shacked up there than personalities clash big-time. The brother, a kind-hearted but ineffectual communist-sympathizing beatnik, wonders why everybody can’t just get along. But in a group of the Liberal, the very very Liberal, and the even more Liberal arguing on profound matters such as whether washing dishes is bourgeois, the arrival of a relatively strait-laced mother and her two young kids might be more than the odd  little family can handle.

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As the commune’s resident free-spirited lesbian Anna (Jessica Liedberg) encourages Elisabeth to reclaim her feminine power and independence, the deeply unhappy kids try to reconnect with their father, who has sunk into a drunken despair; and the group must find some way to balance the children in their crazy lives. This leads to a disagreement between the hippies when meat eating, television, and war games are thrown into the mix.

Although the film makes fun of hippies to some extent, it kind of embraces them too, and this juxtaposition is handled evenly and consistently throughout. While Elisabeth is getting out of a bad relationship, her brother Goran is stuck in one, and the two siblings inspire and aid each other to some extent. Together is somewhat disturbing at times because of the borderline neglect the hippies inflict on their own children in the commune. One little boy of about six claims to have built a tolerance to alcohol by stealing wine from the kitchen, insisting that the adults ‘never notice,’ and the kids witness the grown-up’s self-absorbed drama as members of the commune have indiscriminate sex, experiment with homosexuality, and show no discretion about anything around their children, who seem more like an afterthought than a important facet to their lives.

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It’s preferable to, say, growing up in a crack house, but that’s a discernment no child should ever have to make. Out of the hippies, Goran is the most likable and sympathetic- he’s a sweet and all-around good guy who genuinely cares about his companions and wants to make everyone happy. The character arc dictates that he will eventually learn that you can’t make everyone happy, no matter how nice a guy you are. Elisabeth’s character arc is a little bit more questionable, especially when you see the decision  she makes at the end. The kids give charming and charismatic performances, particularly Sam Kessel as little Stefan, and a cute ‘forbidden’ romance between the son (Henrik Lundsrtom) of prudish, repressed neighbor parents and Elisabeth’s daughter is a welcome escape from some pretty dark subject matter.

As a decidedly non-Hollywood fish-out-of-water comedy, Together definitely has it’s moments, but it’s as a bittersweet drama that it really seems to excel. It’s obviously a low-budget effort; it looks cheap and the sound editing could really use some work, but the actors do a good job and the characters alternately charm you or infuriate you with their craziness, sometimes at the same time. The movie offers up the message that even the biggest radical needs to give and take a little to find balance in life. Although from vastly different worlds, Goran’s commune and Elisabeth’s family find goodness and personal enrichment in each other’s company. Sometimes the perfect combination of values isn’t far left or far right, but somewhere snugly in the middle.

Warning; this movie has full-frontal nudity and a disturbing scene where an adult tries to seduce a child. However, if you are a more adventurous and less sensitive film goer, these aspects should not deter you from watching an engaging and likable film.

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Handling the Undead by John Ajvide Lindqvist

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Zombies are a source of fictional terror when you’re shooting them down “Walking Dead”-style. But what about caring for an undead family member- a spouse, a sibling, a child- when you suspect that there’s spiritually nothing left of them anymore? What would you risk- with the government swooping in to confiscate your dead and take them to a containment unit- if you had the tiniest iota of reason to believe that what they were when they lived was somewhere within them, waiting to be coaxed out?

This is the chilling premise of “Let the Right One In” author John Ajvide Lindqvist’s intriguing take on the zombie genre, “Handling the Undead.” Husband, father, and stand-up comic David’s worst fears are realized when his wife, Eve, is killed in a car accident. But things start to get seriously weird when Eve gets up- after being pronounced dead- and astounds the institute’s doctors.

Similar cases occur all over Sweden, where the dead wake in morgues or in their graves, suddenly alive, and initially harmless, but changed- shells of their former selves. Most of the book is focused on how the citizens deal with their feelings of grief and horror at this shocking occurrence.

Morbidly obese sadsack and newspaper reporter Gustav Mahler rushes to unbury his deceased grandson, Elias, while telepathic widow Elvy (Christian grandmother of a similarly gifted, emo teen, Flora) is reluctant to accept her newly-zombified husband into her life. As it is revealed that the living can read each other’s thoughts while in the company of the undead, causing further discord, the government frets about what to do about the socially marginalized hoards.

I actually liked this book better than Lindqvist’s previous novel, “Let the Right One In,” but not nearly as much as the Swedish film adaptation. I found this book easier to read because there were not as many extraneous characters and subplots as the former (although, to be fair, “Handling the Undead” also had a rather abrupt ending.) The characters in “Handling the Undead” range from pretty well-developed (Flora and Elvy are the highlights of the book) to hardly developed at all (Mahler’s daughter, Anna, who mostly comes of as a passive-aggressive bitch) but for the most part the cast is pretty interestingly written.

The horror of the initial premise, pays off here, with lots of gooey descriptions of zombie guts and decomposition. However, there is also a definite element of tragedy at play as well, as families struggle to cope with their loved ones’ changed natures. There seems to be an undercurrent of political commentary too. The dead (charitably called the ‘reliving’) are shuffled of to a sterile environment and are not exempt from experiments carried out by eager medical personnel.

Like the very sick and disabled, the undead are a problem society simply does not want to deal with. The solution- make the problem go away. This serves as a potent (though decidedly non-PC) allegory. However, I did not like the direct connections drawn between the undead and people with Autism.

Apparently “Handling the Undead” is going to become a TV series, which I am somewhat excited for. I suspect some of the gruesome details (such as the child, Elias’ horrific appearance,) will be gussied up or omitted completely for the sake of so-called ‘good taste’ (on the other hand, the film “Let the Right One In” did fine without the zombie-Hakan attempted rape scene or the icky details of Hakan’s pedophilic escapades from the book.) Also, can we expect a forgettable U.S remake?

To be truthful, I like funny-zombies better than serious-slash-scary-zombies. That said, I enjoy serious zombie stories (such as “The Walking Dead” or “The Returned”) if it has that special something (intriguing characters, genuine scares, or a vitally new take on the familiar story of a worldwide epidemic.) As it so happens, “Handling the Undead” has a little of that something. And I never (I mean never) read horror fiction, but count Lindquist on my radar.

We Are the Best (2013)

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One does not need to be a punk aficionado to appreciate the warmth and heart behind “We Are the Best!,” a charming Swedish film directed by Lukas Moodyson, based on his wife Coco’s graphic novel. The characters and dialogue seem somehow very engaging and natural, and the three girl actors (playing a trio of adolescents who start a punk rock group) give  candid, believable performances.

Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin) are two girls in their very early teens who are overlooked by their respective families and get no support at school. Perhaps as a result, the kids fancy themselves punk rocker rebels whose day-to-day frustration is only matched by their attempts to ‘stick it to the man.’ They both sport unconventional hairstyles (a Mohawk and a boy’s haircut,) perhaps willfully trying to break away from typically feminine ‘little girl’ labels.

The two girls decide one day that they want to perform a punk song about hating gym, but neither of them have any musical talent. Klara decides to enlist shy and pious Hedvig (Liv Lemoyne) to teach them how to play an instrument, hoping to possibly influence Hedvig with their punk basasserie away from God in the process.

Whether they make an atheist out of Hedvig is highly doubtful, but they do help her to loosen up and enjoy herself a bit more, and she aids them in improving their musical skills. Trouble arises when Klara begins to put on make-up and fetches the attention of a punk teen and Bobo starts to feel unattractive and alienated. It’s typical teenaged angst, applied with the  gentle touch of an artist who knows what it’s like to be a kid with raging hormones and best friend troubles.

I found Klara to be somewhat irritating with her attempts to alienate Hedvig for having any kind of faith, but it does lead to an amusing and insightful discussion of religion and the challenge of believing in something you can neither see nor touch. Bobo was a cutie. I really liked her. My heart also went out to Hedvig and it was inspiring to see her start to enjoy herself a little more (although Hedvig’s tightly-wound mother was none too happy to see that Bobo and Klara had cut her straight-laced darling’s hair punk-style.)

I was genuinely worried for the girls when they go to meet some teenaged punk artists to mingle and flirt, and was relieved they came back in one piece. The parents, especially Bobo’s irresponsible, childish mom, were infinitely aggravating . Still, nothing was exaggerated or overwritten. It isn’t cruelty the girls have to contend with (from their parents, their classmates are another story) or even blatant uncaring as much as ignorance and distractedness.

*SPOILER* I also loved how the performance the girls gave at the end was a total failure and the opposing band and the ignoramus adults in charge of the whole thing barely gave them a chance to play but the trio couldn’t haven given less of a fuck. The climactic  scene is not like a lot of others of its kind in many ways- the girls aren’t appreciated or even particularly good, but they get a kick out of doing it so that’s what they do. *END OF SPOILER*

“We Are the Best!” is a delightful experience because it’s so human and accessible, and draws compelling performances from its three young actresses. Anyone whose ever felt like a misfit, especially girls who have been discomforted and bewildered by the Barbie-doll standards of femininity will empathize with “We  Are the Best!”‘s winsome trio.

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Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

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This is one of those rare cases where the book can not compare artistically with its movie adaptation. Sure, John Ajvide Lindqvist’s “Let the Right One In” has more detail, and even works to a certain extent. But I actually think the movie was improved somewhat by being stripped down to its bare essentials, and eliminating extraneous subplots. The book is a pretty good read, but it hardly seems to be in league with the masterpiece the Swedish film version was.

Twelve-year-old Oskar Eriksson is a bullied misfit kid who wants to get back in a big way at his cruel tormentors. He is a overlooked resident of Blackeberg, whose surrounding areas have been plagued by a series of ritualistic killings. Oskar is fascinated by the sense of unease and the corresponding murders and even keeps a scrapbook containing clips of violent crimes. Neither Oskar’s fragile mother or his alcoholic, divorcee dad seem to notice Oskar is harboring a Antisocial streak. But when you’re afraid to go to school every day, life can do that to you.

Then Oskar meets Eli, a strange, thin, androgynous child who encourages him to fight back against his bullies. Eli’s frail façade hides an insatiable bloodlust, but Oskar finds himself strangely drawn to her. How far will Oskar go to protect Eli’s secret? “Let the RIght One In” is a compelling take on vampire lore, but I think it tries too hard to scientifically explain vampirism. Some things are better left unsaid.

The book also offers descriptions of what it feels like to be bitten by a vampire and to turn into a vampire, which is pretty cool. However, it also contains too many characters and feels unnecessarily long. Some passages better explain things left ambiguous in the film, like the role of Eli’s caretaker, Hakan, or the relationship between Oskar and his dad.

In the film, Oskar had a certain innocence and vulnerability that mad him very compelling, despite the indisputable fact that he was a very troubled little boy. The child actor gave that innocence creditability. In the book, Oskar is mostly creepy, someone you don’t want to meet in a dark alley despite his youth and small stature. In this novel, Oskar harbors a fantasy of seeing someone executed in an electric chair and even sets some desks in his classroom on fire (okay, his bullies’ desks, but still, that’s a big safety hazard!)

Oskar still certainly isn’t a completely unsympathizable character, but maybe you have more of a propensity to feel for him when you aren’t looking into that troubled little mind of his. Eli, however, is as compelling as ever, and you get a better sense of who she is the novel, as well as get a more complex look into the grey areas in between the elements of her ambiguous gender.

There’s is some interesting further development of the side characters, but mostly the wealth of detail on the supporting players seems a little ‘meh.’ Despite my quibbles, this book may be still worth reading if you want a more complete picture of a story that proves the vampire genre is not dead. The murderous, predatory class of vampires, not the sparkling one.

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Let the Right One In (2008)


It’s no secret that “Let the Right One In” is my second favorite movie of all time, and was, in my opinion, in no need of a remake. The experience of watching this movie is akin to that of reading a great book — afterwards you want to recommend it to everyone, in hopes that they will feel the way you did watching it for the first time.

Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), an unhappy twelve-year-old boy, is bullied by his peers and fantasizes about making them pay, though for the time being the violence stays within the confines of his imagination. While outside his apartment complex at night, he meets Eli (Lina Leandersson), a strange twelve-year-old who offers him, for the first time, a chance to dream of a different life.

Eli is not like other girls. She goes outside into the bitter Swedish winter wearing no shoes. Occasionally she smells like a putrid corpse. Animalistic growls emanate from her gut. But she floors Oskar with her concern for him and her insistence that he must fight back, no matter what the cost.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, Eli is a vampire, which doesn’t stand by itself as a big spoiler, as it is alluded to in the first twenty-or-so minutes. Eli is not twelve, but rather thousands of years old, and her intentions toward lovelorn, nerdy Oskar are ambiguous throughout.

This is a extraordinarily well-shot film — the snowy, coldly beautiful backdrop is the perfect setting to tell this story, and the cinematography is gorgeous without being showy or pretentious. It is the kind of story that makes you fall in love with its characters. It doesn’t matter if Eli is a vampire or a zombie or even a robot — she is an undeniably real presence, and you root for her as she carries out what must be done.

Lina Leandersson is surprisingly good and carries most of the acting duties on her small, vampiric shoulders. Kåre Hedebrant is a little underwhelming at times but still makes a decent effort, and acts much better than Daniel Buttcliffe is the early HP years. He pulls off the mix of darkness and pain in Oskar’s heart combined with his ultimate naivete.

There’s a lot of symbolism in the second half of the movie (Oskar closing the doors of his toy cars, anybody?) which you may not catch if you are overly literal-minded or are not paying attention. The film never lets us forget the suffering of Eli’s victims, including Lacke, a local drunk she ensnares with a nasty trick and makes a snack out of.

The strength of “Let the Right One In” is that it cares as much about its characters as its blood and special effects. The small bit of controversy it earned with its content involving children is unfounded, and should not deter you from watching what is most certainly one of the all-time greats in modern horror.