Cast Against Hype

Reflections on film and other forms of storytelling from a Swedish wannabe-storyteller…

My Gendrified ‘Game’ Theory Still in Play?

Best laid plans… Don’t always result in the desired outcome. Expect the unexpected in the last two episodes of ”Game of Thrones”? Photo Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO.

So, still around, isn’t he? Oh – for those of you not up to date on current events in the world of ”Game of Thrones”, here might be a few spoilers. Or more correctly, there are. Not too many, but still; my man Gendry did survive The Long Night and subsequently got snubbed by Arya. At least in the form of a Lady to accompany him at ”Storm’s End”, for which he’d just been appointed caretaker manager. Or maybe simply ”Lord”. Queen Daenerys is trying to make new friends, although her impatience seems to create more problems than before – as if she needed more of those. The latest episode got intensely emotional in the last half hour and we’re definitely back to the uncertainties and complexities from the early seasons. So, a few weeks ago I toyed with the idea of Gendry the Blacksmith, Baratheon bastard, could eventually turn out to be the ruler of all seven kingdoms after all other options have been exhausted. Not entirely surprisingly, there are others out there considering a similar outcome. Like in the most recent episode of Entertainment Weekly’s Game of Thrones podcast, available ’where you get your podcasts’ or simply their website. Their Gendryfication prediction is pronounced 20 minutes into their analysis of the ”Last of the Starks” episode. If, that is, anyone at all should have absolute power. Which is also a topic briefly raised later in this particular podisode. Well then, 71 ”GoT” chapters down, two more to go. A lot more can, and probably will, happen. But I guess I have to rule out Theon being involved in running an ice hotel business north of the wall. At least he went out on top.


Related: EW’s Game of Thrones Weekly podcast breaks down ‘The Last of the Starks’ / Darren Franich,  May 06, 2019, Entertainment Weekly


Who Will End Up On the Throne? A Game Theory…

Gendry and Arya. Talking about important stuff. And possibly planning a political coup? Photo Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO

You might have noticed it was about to start over again. Or, that it actually did. Beginning of the end. Final Season of an epic that quite literally moved between ice and fire for almost a decade. This past winter I entertained an obviously overly optimistic plan notion of rewatching all of the previous seasons before the final stretch. As it is I’m approaching the Red Wedding, which of course means I’m somewhere in the late third season. Some of us have day jobs. And other shows to watch…

Needless to say, a lot has happened since that infamous event. In case you happen to speak (and read) Swedish, seasons 1-7 are all reviewed at Two episodes into Season 8, it’s definitely on again. Commentary, analysis, recaps – online, printed or podcasted regarding the way the show manages (or not) to live up to all of these different expectations. ”Game of Thrones” does, as we all know, not display precisely the same priorities as it did when it first appeared. It’s grander, visually more spectacular and dwarfing all competition in the special effects department, rather than the Medieval Times-inspired drama with some fantasy components added that we saw coming out of the gates in 2011. Good thing or not? I hadn’t read the books at all when I started watching the show, but I did get through the first two novels a while back to compare the George R.R. Martin vision with that of showrunners Benioff & Weiss at least to some degree. Sometimes they actually improve on the source material, other times they obviously have to leave out exciting stuff. And I still consider Seasons 1, 3 and 4 my personal favourites. That said, how could I not look forward to see this to the end? Who’s going to take the throne, for one thing? 

Well, here we go. Gendry. The guy without any visible ambitions beyond tending to his craft, down in a darkened forge somewhere, depending on where he’s needed and as you might remember, also depending on the need to hide. He’s always been trying hard to avoid attention, learning the leechy way what can happen when the wrong people find out you’ve got royal blood running in your veins (then again, who doesn’t in Westeros these days?). But, when all the others have tired of battling – or simple been wiped out by enemies, living or walking dead, he will reluctantly accept responsibility and take on the task of running the seven kingdoms, maybe not so much with an iron hand but very likely employing Arya Stark as personal bodyguard (and maybe more, depending on how you interpret what came out of their interactions in the dungeon last week). Remember Hot Pie? Regardless of where he resides right now, he will have to move to the capital and run the Royal Kitchen. Daenerys and Jon Snow, confused about who’s really got the strongest claim to the crown, will give it all up and find freedom in simply roaming around the known world riding the backs of dragons. Or eventually found the precursor of what we know as modern-day travel agencies. 

Cersei, yeah, Cersei. Finally, she’s about to realize that a life in luxury without any real friends whatsoever is somewhat overrated and decide to seek life in silent seclusion at some isolated abbey, maybe on one of these small islands we seldom get to visit on the show. The supercynical power player might really get religion at last – and there are a few to choose from. She might bring the baby we haven’t seen yet, or give it up for adoption. Sansa, Theon and Brienne, probably eagerly assisted by Tormund Giantsbane, get into the hotel business. North of the now breached wall. An ice hotel, but that goes without saying I guess, with guided tours into the ’Formerly known as Night King-land’. Did I get forget something important? Advisers to the young ruler? There are still some moderately clever people around to choose from. Eventually it could all end up with some sort of a protosocialist cooperate or social-liberal democracy with free elections and a universal basic income. 

Unless they’re all dead by then. But of course, all of these predictions hinges on the result of the upcoming battle between the Living and the White Walkers & Co. All of this might be completely out of the question just a few days from now. We simply have to wait and see. 

My Personal Oscar Predictions 2019. Just Because.

Who will win? Why? Will anyone care and will there actually be a show at all? Questions abound this year, possibly more so than ever. Judging from a number of pundits, and in my case listening to a more than a few film-related podcasts lately, there are reasons to worry. There might not even be a traditional host, for various reasons. No one to lead the masses through the raging Red Carpet and beyond like a Modern-day Moses… And you’re supposed to be good at this! You, Americans. Usually, you do know how to put on a good show. Ever watched the Swedish equivalent of the Oscars ceremony? Don’t expect to be blown away.

Anyway, there’s not a lack of worthy award recipients. This time I’ve seen the majority of the films nominated for a Best Picture award ahead of the show, which doesn’t happen every year. Six out of eight so far. Of these, my personal favourite is, well, ”The Favourite”. Though I wouldn’t weep if ”Roma” was rewarded either. Many people have commented on the fact that there are several blockbusters, hugely commercially successful movies in the competition here, such as ”Bohemian Rhapsody”, ”Black Panther” and ”A Star Is Born”. Critics are deeply divided over the merits of ”Rhapsody”, with a director seemingly fallen from grace and basically ignored in this context. Did I enjoy that film? Yes, I did. Was I among the many Queen fans over her back in the day. You could say that. I’m sure it’s flawed in many ways, but it does keep your attention. However, it will probably not win. ”A Star Is Born” generally seems to have lost its momentum and might go home emptyhanded. At least in the biggest and most talked-about categories. ”Green Book” and ”BlacKkKlansman” (both unseen by me so far) boasts True Story-based concepts that (at least in the the case of the former) have been called into question. Well, all things considered, I’ll go with ”Roma”, even if the Netflix distribution in most parts of the world (such as here in Sweden) might turn some voters off. 

As I mentioned, many take issue with ”Bohemian Rhapsody”, not least regarding what’s in it and what’s left out, but there seems to be a consensus, not 100 percent but maybe 87,5, that Rami Malek does a pretty great job in the leading role. I take the easy way out and predict he wins this category. Though Christian Bale’s transformation into former vice president Dick Cheney might actually be an even better performance. Possibly Bradley Cooper still has a shot, but… Probably not. For the female equivalent I’d love to see newcomer Yalitza Aparicio honoured for ”Roma”, but hey, Olivia Colman is nothing short of masterful as the miserable Queen Anne in ”The Favourite”. I’ll take a chance on Colman. Maybe because I haven’t seen ”The Wife”, for which Glenn Close has already received some love from certain other institutions. Also, she was directed by a Swede so what could possibly go wrong? Lady Gaga? Well, she doesn’t seem as widely appreciated anymore, even if she did a really good job as Coopers protegée in that remake of a remake of a classic that once inspired the 80’s synth-pop sensation ”Don’t You Want Me” by Human League. But I digress. Did I say I’ll go Colman here? Right or wrong, we’ll know tomorrow. Yes, from a European perspective the results will be in tomorrow. 

Male supporting actor? I’ll pass. Haven’t seen Adam Driver, Richard E. Grant or Mahershala Ali do their thing, respectively. Yet.  Supporting Actress does have some juicy parts, and I guess I place my bets on Emma Stone, competing with Rachel Weisz from the same film (”The Favourite”) and Amy Adams (convincingly MacBethian  in ”Vice”) and Marina de Tavira as the grieving, ambivalent housewife in ”Roma”. Regina King seems to have a shot, but you guessed it, I have yet to watch ”If Beale Street Could Talk”. 

Directing: Yes, Alfonso Cuarón already got one of these at home, but ”Roma” is such an prime example of visible direction and vision and all that. How could he lose? Caveat: How good is ”Cold War”? 

Original screenplay… ”First Reformed” has been less than amiably treated in this context. Maybe, maybe writer-director Paul Schrader gets some recognition here, but I doubt it. He will be mostly ignored and the writers of ”The Favourite” rewarded. That wouldn’t be unfair either. I repeat, it’s a great satire/costume dramedy with a brilliant dialogue as the foundation for everything else. Adapted screenplay? I’ll better shut up there. Would have had to see three more nominated films first. 

Cinematography: Sorry. ”Roma” again. It is getting ridiculous, but among so many other things, it’s exceedingly, breathtakingly gorgeous to behold. Production design, Costume and Original Score is where I guess ”Black Panther” will get its recognition tonight. While writing this, I’m actually listening to the Panther soundtrack by Mr Ludwig Göransson (Swedish, just a reminder) and as it happens I should have seen the other four nominees in this category before boldly predicting anything, but you’ve got to live on the edge sometimes, right? 

Will I watch the whole thing? I wish. Over here, you need a special subscription to the internet-based TV channel provided by one of our biggest and most profitable newspapers to have access to the Oscars show nowadays. Could be worth it, but I also have a civilian job. So I suspect there will be recaps on YouTube and podcast postmortems for me instead. Perhaps it’s the safer choice. If all the train-wreck predictions and dire prophecies turn out to be accurate…

Death, Disappearing Acts and Details of Daily Life – My Favourite Films of 2018

So… Are these the very best? As always, I probably missed a few serious contenders. Also as always, this is about films released in Sweden during 2018 AD. Which, for example, might mean some Oscar nominees and even winners of last year could show up here. Do they? Let’s find out, shall we?

1. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (directed by Christopher McQuarrie)

They run, hide, jump and fight to save the world. Many are called but few are chosen as well as Tom Cruise & Co in this surprisingly persistent and still vital movie franchise.  

2. Roma (Alfonso Cuarón)

Grand and intimate, beautiful and troublesome, in this magnificent ode to life in Mexico City during times of turbulence back in the early 70’s. Though most of all, so impressive in its depiction of daily life and its attention to details. 

 3. Annihilation (Alex Garland)

What is it really about? What happened in that weird, glowing forest? We could discuss that for hours on end without completely reaching an agreement. Anyway, it’s one of 2018’s most consistently intriguing films. At least I agree on that. 

4. Coco (Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina)

Death. It’s really colourful and attractive, right? At least in this Mexicanized musical universe. 

5. Sicario: Day of the Soldado (Stefano Sollima)

Death. Sometimes it’s all too unnecessary, don’t you think? Can’t we all just get along? Still, entering this world means being trapped for two hours, wondering where it’s all going, whom you’re to supposed to sympathize with and why. 

6. A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper)

One is falling, the other one rising and they love each other. But… It’s complicated. Impressive directing debut for Bradley Cooper, who doesn’t let the actor Bradley Copper retain all that much dignity when the going really gets tough for the protagonist. Also, Lady Gaga is in the movie. You knew that, right? Come to think of it, she’s probably the real protagonist. She can sing! And act, incidentally. 

7. First Reformed (Paul Schrader)

Light entertainment indeed… Or, no. Ethan Hawke as a preacher with a tortured soul trying to figure out the purpose of his life at a point where he’s lost a family, maybe his faith as he used to know it and possibly hope for the future in general. What kind of catharsis could be in store for him – and us? Well, it is painful. And also somewhat hopeful. 

8. The Death of Stalin (Armando Iannucci)

Death. Again… Oh by the way, watching films on airplanes. What’s your stance on that? I did that in this case. Could it be this one deserves a higher ranking? Entertaining and shrewd satire. 

9. The Post (Steven Spielberg)

The Master’s ode to the Free Press. Traditional, highbrow, old-fashioned, maybe. But also entertaining and kind of… is it this little word important I’m really trying to emphasize here?

10. Foxtrot (Samuel Maoz)

Israeli drama, apparently not entirely appreciated by everyone within the country itself. It becomes political in a sense without really trying to be overtly that. It’s human, it’s complicated and deals with tragedy, sorrow and young lives put on the line in a way that you just don’t see every day. It’s got style. And substance. And might mess with your head in a constructive way. 


Honourable Mentions:

The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Lady Bird, Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody

I could name a few others, but let’s draw the line here for now. Of course I will discover a few more masterpieces from 2018 eventually, which I’ve missed so far. Hopefully. Also, I am aware that none of my top ten this year were directed by women. ”Lady Bird”, mentioned honourably being the exception all in all. Yes, as I said, probably I have some more revealing discoveries coming up…


Last year’s top ten can be found here

Intermission: Classic Moral Dilemma As Solved by a Two-Year-Old

You may know the drill. Eternal ethical dilemmas often get illustrated and their implications illuminated through intricate (or sometimes deceptively simple) scenarios. Frequently a fascinating exercise, as used in for example didactic settings. In my daytime job as a teacher for adult students I occasionally employ them myself. Could this 26-second cinematic gem become useful some day? I stumbled on it a few days ago, as I suspect a lot of other people might have done. Referred to in a short piece published on Vox, the headline and the setup naturally piqued my interest and, well… I won’t spoil it for you. I am relucant to share my spontaneous immediate reaction to it, but I’ll give you a clue. Monty Python, ”Black Adder”, Key & Peele, ”Dr Strangelove…” – unapologetic fan of them all. A slightly skewed sense of humour is sometimes exactly what you need, right? Whether the comedy provided is intentional or not. Also, this could trigger a number of intriguing debates concerning the very nature of Man, the presumed innocence of children or just the way we entertain ourselves at a young age. Anyway, enjoy! Or not.

Related reading: ”Watch a 2-year-old solve one of philosophy’s most famous moral dilemmas” / Zach Beauchamp, Vox November 15, 2018

Who’s Telling Your Story? Thoughts on ”Westworld” Season 2

To boldly go where no one has gone before… Or search for your own Manifest Destiny, whatever that may be. Existential issues abound in the second season of ”Westworld”. Credit:

– What humans describe as sane is a narrow range of behaviours. Most states of consciousness are insane.
Yes, we all know by now. That Bernard guy sure knows how to cheer people up. He is a true people person. Or a people… individual, created and designed by (I suppose, but who really knows anything anymore) people, based on what I still believe was a real person. In fact, one of the original creators of that spectacular theme park we’ve come to know as ”Westworld”. Anyway, Mr Bernard Lowe, artificially made as he might be, still possesses a lot of nuance. Maybe more so than most… People?

One of the many points the show seems intent on getting across in this wild ride of a second season is that, well, should we even make that distinction anymore? Between the human beings we think we know as ourselves and the ones meticulously designed in a lab for entertainment purposes? Everyone can die, regardless of your ancestry. And possibly be revived in some form or other. And about the specific purpose of the park, it’s apparently not just what it seemed to be at first glance. These existential and purely practical issues raised in the first round of the show, continues to evolve and be explored, further and deeper, twisting and turning and increasingly confusing. To what end, exactly? I suspect we’re not supposed to be certain of anything at this point. Some day this epic is clearly meant to go on, but we’ll probably have to wait a while. Until then, there are number of things to contemplate and hopefully discuss with other… people. Without the explicit expectation of actually resolving everything in detail. What would be the fun in that?

As we start out this season, the rebellion is on. War of the Hosts. The ’designed’ individuals strike back against their oppressors, the humans that exploited them for what seems like ages, even though the precise time frames in this story never really become determined. Or do they? They weren’t supposed to know. Not to be aware. But now, obviously, enough of them are and it has become a real problem for the corporation running the place. A problem of the ’life or death’ variety. Simultaneously we’re getting introduced to more of the backstory. It starts out in a decidedly action-packed way where everything appears to happen at once, then gives way to an almost solemn meditation on life and its inherent fragility in the second episode ”Reunion”, albeit with a constant present threat of violence. Why do people make the decisions they make and what are the consequences? Oh, I should have mentioned right away that nothing here would make much sense to anyone who didn’t follow the first season from pilot to finale and just decides to dive right in at this point. A word of advice: Don’t.

New doors are being opened, additional secrets revealed. Apparently, there’s an Eastworld as well, set in India. And a Japanese samurai society, perhaps aimed at an audience that already got fed up with the Old West. Still not sure how these provinces fit in the whole, or if they usually interact and connect with what we’ve seen before. Now that all rules have been broken and the system is collapsing, nothing is certain. Or is it? Meanwhile, in the ’regular’ Westworld (whatever that means and how it’s defined) civil war is raging, but it’s not as simple as a two-way conflict. It’s a mess. In the midst of it all we always tend to wind up with Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood), the formerly innocent and docile country girl you might remember from before. Or was she ever that innocent? She certainly isn’t anymore. She’s woke. And determined to take on every adversary with or without the use of blunt force. A commander, maybe overly reckless and cold-hearted in this ’new’ incarnation. The again, her strategy could arguably be necessary to right the wrongs and see justice done. It’s all a grey area.

Where, when, how and why. All these basic questions are virtually equally important. Origins and evolution. ”Westworld” continues to explore its own universe. The issue of eternal life is part of the package. This elusive dream of never having to disappear and dissolve into nothingness – and what price you’re prepared to pay to achieve it. Since we’re frequently being shuttled back and forth in time, the overall narrative is not entirely clear. Everything tends to get more complicated and I realize that it’s not ideal to start watching this season halfway through, taking a break during vacations (when I simply didn’t have access to the proper channels, as it were) and then try to pick up after the break, a month or so later. Maybe I ought to have started over from scratch. Which could mean the start of this season, or even the very beginning of the show, consuming it all in a few weeks time. That, on the other hand, would carry the risk of resulting in somewhat surreal psychological effects, possibly hallucinations.

Some characters achieve more depth and nuance, while others appear to dig even further down into darkness. Like Ed Harris’ ’Man in Black’, whose backstory now becomes more familiar to us, gets even less sympathetic, derived of conciliatory characterics and redeeming qualities. At least in this Old Man version of himself, the way he acts in a fantasy world he was involved in realizing, but which he doesn’t completely comprehend. Then again, who does?

The most important characters in this vast ensemble are still the ’hosts’, the aforementioned Dolores and the mysterious Maeve (Thandie Newton). Personally, since the beginning I’ve been more intrigued by the latter rather than the increasingly battle-hardened and brutally determined Dolores – who might get just a little too much attention by the showrunners. At least I feel that way until the last episodes, and especially the season finale, when the dogged focus on her development provides more of a pay-off than I expected. Still, ”Westworld” remains a story bigger than that about a few individuals (homo sapiens or otherwise). At its core it’s about, well, people and the human race as a whole. How complicated and nuanced are we really? To which extent are we capable of changing and adjusting our behavioural patterns, and is it likely to be for the better?

Visually, architecturally, sonically and all that – yeah, ”Westworld” is up there among the best of the very best. The look occasionally appears consciously cold and clinical, but it’s never less than impressive and adapted to the purpose. Regarding the storytelling, I think we’re allowed to ask questions like; are there too many twists and turns? But overall, it’s rarely less than intriguing and thought-provoking. The right to tell your own story is becoming a mantra, emphasized not least near the end of the season. What exactly does that mean and how many of us can honestly claim to fully control our own destiny?

TexMexTimes 2018: AMLO – Who? What? Why?

Previously published at yemenity2010

Monument inspired by Ancient themes in the city centre of Monterrey, a Metropolitan area home to few million people and one of nations’s most important industrial regions. Photo: PJ Lindahl

Our world is full of abbreviations. CIA, FBI, KGB, CCCP (in case you remember the Cold War), JFK, BBC, CNN, UN… Recognized all of those? This summer in Mexico, four letters towered above everything else: AMLO. A shorter way of referring to Mr Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Some six weeks ago he was elected the next president of a country that presents a real challenge for anyone who dares aspire to the presidency. More than 100 million people with distinctly different ideas on how to prioritize and deal with the problems at hand. Which are plenty. Now, AMLO is not just anyone. A veteran politician on the Left (or at least used to be) who lost two previous presidential elections, at least in one case a fiercely contested one where some people still think he was cheated out of winning, one way or the other. This time around the competition was virtually annihilated. Election Day happened to take place during my first week of this year’s vacations in my wife’s homeland. She was one of millions of Mexicans casting their vote that day, a day that might be the starting point for some profound changes in the country. Might be. Remember that. The challenges are numerous. Obrador may have left the other three other candidates way behind, but real work is about to begin in a few months when he takes office.

Car window commercials during the campaign were commonplace. Winning presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador seems confident – and as it turned out, he had reason to be. Photo: PJ Lindahl

One obvious result is that the shared hegemony of the two previously most powerful parties PRI and PAN has been, well… Smashed. Obliterated. The new president-elect and his movement named Morena now has the opportunity to create something new. At least that’s what many people hope for. Real change. Rampant corruption and disappointing performances from elected officials in general have been the norm for a long time. So, is AMLO a Mexican Trump, or Macron, or what exactly? How much of an ideologue versus pragmatist, populist versus real game-changer is he? These things are never easy to sort out in Mexico, as far as I can tell. Nothing is simply black and white. I admit I find it really difficult to define what the dominant parties actually represent. PRI might have some sort of Social Democrat platform in theory but more than anything it seems to be about power itself, institutionalizing and infiltrating every level of society. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (yeah, that’s what it means) was basically in power uninterrupted from the late 1920’s until 2000 when the more outspokenly conservative PAN won the presidential election through Vicente Fox, followed six years later by Felipe Calderón.

When PRI recovered and regained the presidency 2012 they presented themselves as a reformed party with a fresh face and old sins washed away. Sort of. Six years later you would be hard pressed to find people expressing enthusiastic support for the outgoing president Enrique Peña Nieto. Several corruption scandals and shocking outbursts of violence in different forms – in a nation unfortunately accustomed to both – contributed to that.

There are many ways to make a living in Mexico, some more spectacular than others. Photo: PJ Lindahl

The widespread discontent with both of these behemoths have been skillfully exploited by Obrador and his Morena movement. Many political pundits agree on that. The president-elect (and former mayor of Mexico City) has always marketed himself as anti-elite and anti-establishment, according to Denise Dresser, professor and political analyst in Mexico City, interviewed by NPR:s Latino USA after the elections in early July. Since corruption in government not exactly has decreased recently, it seems his message has been proven effective, more so than ever before. On the other hand, he received criticism for changing the government strategy in dealing with mighty drug cartels and even suggesting amnesty for some people involved in the drug trade. He’s had to clarify his position and doesn’t appear to suggest that the most powerful barons would be included in that offer. Rather, people at the lower rungs such as farmers growing the crops in question. Not surprisingly, he’s also implied to stand up more forcefully to the president of the northern neighbour (you know who) than Mr Peña Nieto, who currently appears to enjoy the support of maybe 20 percent of the population. Expectations are high, but you need to be realistic, in Dresser’s opinion. This is not the first time in history that the Mexican people started to hope for some significant improvements overall, only to end up disappointed.

During the weeks after the election, many posters and other forms of political advertisement were still very visible, wherever you went. Most of all, the propaganda for Morena which did well not only in the presidential election, but also the congressional and local elections held simultaneously. One afternoon in late July, a leak affected the running water in northeastern city of Matamoros where my wife’s family resides and we stayed at the time. For some 15 or 20 hours, taps were dried up in several parts of the city, including our barrio. Some people suggested, seemingly half-jokingly, that outgoing local municipal president was behind it, a supposed revenge for the disappointing outcome a few weeks earlier. Oh, maybe I ought to mention the transition period, which in Mexico extends to several months. December, that’s when newly elected officials, including Andrés Manuel López Obrador, will be sworn in. What kind of significant changes will take place then? Hopefully there are still reasons to stay… Well, hopeful. 

The Best Begins with a B: Albums of the Year, 2017

Artrock. Plain ol’ pop. And a bunch of other stuff in between, above, below and surrounding these categories. The year of 2017 AD possibly wasn’t one of the overall most cheerful throughout human history (though probably preferable to, say, 1350, 1914 or 1939). But music was alive, in spite of or maybe because of all discomfort and absurdities going around globally. Well, you know. You were here. Presumably on the same planet during the same period. Anyway, here are some examples of artistic endeavours that helped make life more satisfying and even provide inspiration and hope for the future. Imagine that!

1. Barock Project ”Detachment”. Poor Italians. No World Cup coming up this summer… Once upon a time Germanic tribes supposedly contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire and this past fall one of those tribes (my own, to be precise) kicked Gli Azzurri out of competition for the most prestigious prize the world of sport has to offer. Yes, needless to say, Soccer is what really counts. Still, a bunch of Italians happened to produce my favourite album of 2017. Conceptual, powerful and subtle all in one memorable effort.

2. Bent Knee ”Land Animal”. Young and obnoxious artrock with a temper and gunpowder on its sleeve. I’ve been an admirer since the ”Shiny Eyed Babies” album a few years ago, and this here is almost precisely equally great.

3. Beatrix Players ”Magnified”. A trio of trained, disciplined ladies take us back in time, sometimes seemingly to another dimension. Sparse, carefully selected instrumentation and arrangements, strikingly tasteful and nuanced. Music as painter of images.

4. Steven Wilson ”To the Bone”. Former Porcupine Tree frontman with a persistent following decided to lighten things up a little, relatively speaking. As usual, he delivered space and depth but also one or another shockingly catchy pop tune, such as ”Permanating”.

5. Loney Dear ”Loney Dear”. One of Sweden’s most consistently praised musical mystics keeps gliding along on a wave of some surreal magic… Whatever it is. Now with the backing of Peter Gabriel’s record label if I’m not mistaken.

6. Father John Misty ”Pure Comedy”. Tales of life in a beguiling ballad format. Not exactly exaggerated optimism all over, but would that be prudent in these times? Father John nevertheless manages to infuse an energy and wry smiles into his brand of melancholy meandering and sometimes it’s just plain irresistible.

7. Residente ”Residente”. A journey. For real. Some sort of fascination with DNA sets Mr René Juan Pérez Joglar from Puerto Rico off on a quest around the world, searching for every influence that’s fit to include on one album. Intriguing, exciting and soul-stirring. And…

8. Cobalt Chapel ”Cobalt Chapel”. Back to Medieval Times! Or something like that, although with access to electronics. Not sure if I’m able to accurately describe this in a satisfying way. You just have to find out for yourself.

9. Blondie ”Pollinator”. ”Fun” is the title of one of the songs. And they certainly seems to have fun, these former legends whom I actually feared had left us for greener pastures or bluer skies.

10. Paramore ”After Laughter”. More pop in the best sense of the word. Somewhat inspired by 1980’s polyrhythmic pop, I think I read somewhere.

11. Kaipa ”Children of the Sounds”. Swedish veterans that really parked their vehicle sometime back in the 1970’s and yet manages to avoid the moss covering it all at this point. This sounds more or less like they always do, but to my mind they’re always welcome when they decide to release something new.

12. Arcade Fire ”Everything Now”. Dance! Take a break and contemplate existence. And… dance! And so on. What’s not to like?

13. Robert Plant ”Carry Fire”. Old and stubborn, though probably even wise. And still curious! That old Led Zeppeliner who constantly seems to discover something new from the planet’s musical flora.

14. Steve Hackett ”The Night Siren”. Another stubborn old guy who refuses to retire. The most prolific former Genesis member still wrings whatever he can muster out of his guitar, and it still sounds relevant, with dreamlike qualities and massive soundscapes.

15. Benny Andersson ”Piano”. Those melodies sounds familiar, don’t they? From ABBA, ”Chess” and other eras in the life of a Swedish keyboard virtuoso. Now scaled down to just… Piano. Simple but sometimes simply transcendent.


Honourable mentions, some of which has been personal favourites for a long time and in other cases just showed on my radar in the last stretch of 2017. Still keep discovering stuff, the way it should be, you know:

Temples ”Volcano”, Kansas ”The Prelude Implicit”, Roger Waters ”Is This the Life We Really Want?”, Danay Suárez ”Palabras manuales” , Beck ”Colors”, The Killers ”Wonderful Wonderful”, Oumou Sangaré ”Mogoya”, Sparks ”Hippopotamus”, Nad Sylvan ”The Bride Said No”, Gizmodrome ”Gizmodrome”, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith ”The Kid”, Lizz Wright ”Grace”, Europe ”Walk the Earth”, The Mute Gods ”Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth”, Ninet Tayeb ”Paper Parachutes”, Café Tacuba ”Jei Beibi”, Luiza Lian ”Oyá tiempo”, Ibeyi ”Ash”, Natalia Lafourcade ”Musas”, Café Tacuba ”Jei Beibi”, Derek Webb ”Fingers Crossed”…

As usual, I ought to mention a few sources from where I got suggestions on new things to discover, or known quantities ripe for rediscovery. Such as Rolling Stone, Paste Magazine, Relevant Podcast, NPR, Song Exploder Podcast… And others. Also, most of this music is available on Spotify – probably also on other streaming platforms. Go discover!

Blades, Blondes, Beasts and Driving Babies – My Favourite Films of 2017


Once more again, into the breach… As usual, at bit late. And also as usual, I haven’t seen enough. Nevertheless, here they are, my favourite films of 2017 AD. Or to be specific, films that opened in my Scandinavian home country during this illustrious and turbulent year we just left behind. Be it in the cinemas, BluRay, Netflix, airplanes (in some cases, yes) or other venues – these films caught my attention more than others.

1. Under the Shadow (directed by Babak Anvari)

Could have been labeled ”Under the Radar”. Films like these have a tendency to just disappear in the onslaught of moving images constantly coming our way. That is a shame. This combination of modern history (the 1980’s Iran-Iraq war is used as a backdrop to great effect), understated absurdities and observations about women’s life in that time and place, and on top of it all a harrowing ghost story is irresistibly frightening. Thought-provoking. And frighteningly irresistible.

2. Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve)

Back to the future. Again. One of the darker and least attractive visions of said future, even considering the competition (considering the official library of film dystopia already available) did result in one of the year’s most attractive films. Villeneuve might not have created one the most immediately commercially successful films of 2017, but maintains his standing as one of the truly visionary, exciting and genuinely interesting directors working today.

3. Baby Driver (Edgar Wright)

Mr Provocateur Bill Maher delivered an entertaining, harshly critical review of this film, and basically the whole ’drive really fast to get away from the cops’-genre on his show. Though personally I enjoyed this one far more than car-chase movies in general. The carefully selected soundtrack alone made it worthwhile. And the driving was… Special.

4. Get Out (Jordan Peele)

It’s tempting to recommend it with the caveat ’the less you know about the plot beforehand, the better’. Even the trailers seem to give away far too much information. Anyway, it’s about prejudices. And the misguided notion you might not have any. Delivered in a laughter-turns-to-screaming scenario that seriously will mess with your head in a number of ways.

5. Silence (Martin Scorsese)

Honestly, an ordeal you might not want to go through more than once. But at least do it once. It’s like the Scorsesian antithesis to the unbridled hedonism he wallowed in for three hours in ”The Wolf of Wall Street” (which I also might recommend for different reasons, but still don’t entirely adore from start to finish). If this is penitence, it would be comparable to Robert De Niro carrying his discarded mercenary armour uphill and downhill and uphill again for days, in ”The Mission”. Enjoy!

6. Okja (Joon-ho Bong)

Colourful action-satire-adventure flick dealing with genetic engineering, corporate politics, public relations in a postmodern era and the unbreakable friendship between a young girl and a giant pig. You don’t see something like this every day. From the guy who brought you the relentlessly cheerful train ride known as ”Snowpiercer”. This is, in comparison, slightly more optimistic.

7. Hidden Figures (Theodore Melfi)

Feel-good modern history, telling the story of some unsung heroes in the American space program. Quite simply an uplifting story that never crosses the line into awkward sentimentality and exaggerated audience manipulation. It works, dammit!

8. Beauty and the Beast (Bill Condon)

This also works well, in the fantasy-for-all-ages genre. We know the story. They added something to it, not sure exactly what. But as I said, it…works fine.

9. Atomic Blonde (David Leitch)

Could be that it is just a little cold and distanced, eh? But is it exciting, entertaining, full of great 80’s pop songs and a anchored by a similarly great Charlize Theron as an enigmatic and emphatically independent spy in late Cold War Berlin? Yes, yes, yes and Oh yeah.

10. Colossal (Nacho Vigalondo)

Maybe another case of ’the less I tell you…’. Somehow a young, slightly lost woman (Anne Hathaway) moving back to her small, mostly downright boring hometown after a break-up registers a personal connection to a giant monster showing up in South Korea, wreaking havoc while the world watches. What’s it all about, really? Is there a deeper, existential meaning, another hidden layer to be found? Your guess is as good as mine. But it did keep my attention throughout until the spectacular finale.




The Lost City of Z (James Gray). Mysterious, a little too introvert and with some stretches but something you don’t see every day. An exploration worth taking part in.

Tour de Pharmacy (Jake Szymanski). Perhaps not strictly speaking a feature film. This HBO 40-minute satire on the wonderful world of bicycle is too outrageous to be ignored. From the folks who kindly brought you ”7 Days in Hell”, FYI.

Loving (Jeff Nichols). Extremely well acted and worthwhile subject matter. Could have used a little more temper and forward motion.

A Cure for Wellness (Gore Verbinski). Weird indeed. And difficult to forget entirely.

The Beguiled (Sofia Coppola). It looks great. The acting is quite distinguished. Somehow it didn’t keep me completely enthralled all the way, but deserves to be seen at least once.

Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson). This particular franchise never had any real life-transforming impact on me. I tend to find most of the installments entertaining and… that’s that, basically. That said, this one impressed me more than I had expected going in. Especially the final 45 minutes or so, including the denouement, packed a punch I gotta give it credit for.


Oh, last year’s ranking is available here.

Superspies, Spectacular Designs and Suspicious Behaviour – My Favourite TV Shows of 2016

Simply put: Here are my personal favourites from last year’s vast supply of TV shows. Fiction category, to be precise. You might find a few that strictly speaking were released late 2015, but which I might have started watching in 2016, or whose presence here are justified for other reasons. All in all, so many shows with comparable qualities were available that I included twelve entries, followed by a couple of honourable mentions and such. Oh, I also mention the channels where I had the opportunity to watch these series here in Sweden. And at least one of the creators/showrunners.

1. ”The Americans” (Joseph Weisberg / Netflix). Four seasons have been broadcast in the US, right? Here in Sweden we are a bit behind… But the third season was the best so far. Who are we supposed to sympathize with, which side should we choose? All of them! No one! Just make sure the most important characters stay alive for a few more years. We need them.

2. ”Fargo” (Noah Hawley / HBO Nordic). I was kind of late discovering the first season, which I started watching sometime last winter, after which I went on to the next one. You know, where it’s all taking place during the late 1970’s. If the first round was really well made, the second one seemed more or less sensational to me. If only I could explain exactly why…

3. ”Penny Dreadful” (John Logan / HBO Nordic). Spectacular – and somewhat unexpected, since it wasn’t properly announced as such – finale concluded this gothic style ’let’s throw every conceivable horror character into the same bowl and do something much better with it than anyone has the right to expect’- show. A bombastic and bittersweet end to a creation which will be missed.

4. ”Game of Thrones” (David Benioff, D. B. Weiss / HBO Nordic). The latest two seasons haven’t been the definitive high points in the story arc so far, but even a slightly-below-maximum-round of this, TV drama’s biggest spectacle right now will still qualify as one of the best things to watch. And of course, the themes involved, concerning power struggles and what it takes to reach the top (or merely survive), will never grow old.

5. ”The Knick” (Jack Amiel, Michael Begler / HBO Nordic). Well, the second season was released late 2015 and finished late december then. Not sure if it was available here exactly at that time. Anyway, this Steven Soderbergh-directed hospital epic is sort of a unique little piece, that deserves repeated reminders of its existence. Brief, as it may have been. I am not certain anyone knows if there will be any more episodes. And maybe there doesn’t have to be. Clive Owen contributed a virtually magnetic presence during this whole purgatorial pilgrimage through trial and error in the world of medicine.

6. ”The Night Of” (Richard Price, Steven Zaillian / HBO Nordic). Innocent or not? And what happens in the process with a person who is believed to have committed a heinous crime and is being processed through the judicial system? And what about everyone else around? John Turturro was particularly memorable here, as a somewhat underrated and disrespected lawyer with a variety of personal problems to deal with.

7. ”Narcos” (Chris Brancato, Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro / Netflix). The hunt for the notorious drug runner Pablo Escobar continued, leading to a climactic denoument in this reality-inspired show, taking place in Colombia mostly in the early 1990’s. The question is how to go on after this, but apparently they have a plan. Other comparable cartels obviously existed – and exist.

8. ”Westworld” (Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy / HBO Nordic). Complicated and multi-layered storytelling that didn’t live up to everyone’s expectations. Mine were mostly met, even though they too were a bit unrealistic. Who am I? Who are you? What’s being human all about, really? Genuinely hoping for an even more elaborate and profound continuation eventually. Until then, some acting nominations for Thandie Newton and Jeffrey Wright would be in order. And that overall visual design has to be rewarded one way or another.

9. ”Billions” (Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Andrew Ross Sorkin / HBO Nordic). How to get rich and letting others die in the process, sometimes literally. Damian Lewis versus Paul Giamatti as a successful but ruthless and sometimes reckless Wall Street investor and a stubborn State prosecutor, respectively, was an entertaining battle that we hopefully haven’t seen the last – or best – of, yet.

10. ”Black Sails” (Robert Levine, Jonathan E. Steinberg / HBO Nordic). They keep on sailing. Without apparently changing anything of vital importance in the concept that could make it more easily accessible and a smoother ride. Respectable, potent and powerful epic, starring some more or less mythological pirates in the Caribbean a couple of centuries ago.

11. ”Bloodline” (Glenn Kessler, Todd A. Kessler, Daniel Zelman / Netflix). The second season was perhaps generally regarded as less convincing and engaging in its plotline than the first, but seriously; what compelling characters, what a dense atmosphere, what captivating overviews of the Floridian landscape, what a Shakespearean family tragedy…

12. ”The Path” (Jessica Goldberg / HBO Nordic). A fictional cult. Internal intrigue. Nothing is completely self-evident. What exactly is their worldview and is it something society at large should fear or not? Constantly ambiguous and unpredictable interactions between the principal actors Aaron Paul, Michelle Monaghan and Hugh Dancy.

Honourable mentions: ”Orphan Black” (Netflix) might have been at its best in its very first season, but maintains a level of mischief and excitement that keeps it from losing its appeal for me. And Tatiana Maslany’s versatility has to be praised as well. Scifi show ”The Expanse” (Netflix) is somewhat difficult to grasp and accurate describe, but it does have its own voice and other attractive elements. Criminal drama ”Quarry” (HBO Nordic) seemed really promising at the beginning and I cannot quite explain why I haven’t finished the whole first season yet. But I will. ”Mr. Robot” (SVT – the Swedish non-commercial television broadcaster) might have made things more messy than they needed to be, but remains intriguing and compulsive nevertheless. ”Banshee” (HBO Nordic) has been a guilty pleasure for me a couple of years and managed to go out with a… Not sure if it’s a bang. But somehow true to itself. ”Midnattssol” (translates as ”Midnight Sun”, on SVT), a Swedish-French thriller set in the far north of Scandinavia was definitely uneven, but managed to capitalize on the magnificent natural surroundings of Kiruna, taking advantage of its exotic qualities and tell a story of broken people trying to solve what looks like a string of connected homicides with decidedly unpleasant methods involved.


Also available in Swedish at Fair Slave Trade, another blog forum of mine.


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