Review: ‘Bergman Island’ (2021), starring Tim Roth, Vicky Krieps, Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie

October 20, 2021

by Carla Hay

Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth in “Bergman Island” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Bergman Island”

Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve

Some language in Swedish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Sweden (primarily on the island of Fårö), the dramatic film “Bergman Island” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A British film director and his German screenwriter wife have different experiences while on a getaway trip to Fårö (famous for being filmmaker Ingmar Bergman’s home), where she struggles to finish a screenplay, whose plot is depicted in the movie.

Culture Audience: “Bergman Island” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Ingmar Bergman and to people who are interested in talkative arthouse movies that have a story within a story.

Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie in “Bergman Island” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

People watching “Bergman Island” will have a better chance of enjoying the movie if they know in advance that it’s more of a low-key “slice of life” character portrait (with a generous serving of Ingmar Bergman history) than a series of dramatic shakeups. Usually, whenever there’s a drama about a married couple going on a getaway trip together, the plot is about some kind of crisis or reckoning that happens in their marriage. That’s not the case with “Bergman Island,” which has a story-within-a-story that’s introduced in the last third of the film.

Written and directed by Mia Hansen-Løve, “Bergman Island” has a meandering quality to it that’s reflective of the leisurely pace that one might have when on a tourist getaway trip. Married couple Tony (played by Tim Roth) and Chris (played by Vicky Krieps) are on this type of trip, which they approach in two very different ways. Tony is a well-known British film director in his late 50s. He’s about 25 years older than Chris, a lesser-known screenwriter who is originally from Germany, but she currently lives in the United States with Tony and their daughter June (played by Grace Delrue), who is about 5 or 6 years old.

Tony is a highly respected “auteur” who’s famous-enough to be recognized in public by film aficionados, but he’s not so famous that paparazzi are following him wherever he goes. Chris and Tony have decided to go without June to Fårö (an island off the coast of Sweden), which is nicknamed Bergman Island, because it’s where Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman famously lived in the later years of his life. The island has become a tourist attraction for Bergman fans who take guided tours of Bergman’s former home and places that he liked to go on the island.

This getaway trip isn’t a complete vacation for Tony and Chris. It’s somewhat of a working trip. Tony has been invited to give a guest lecture, while Chris is trying to get some work done on a screenplay for her next movie. She has writer’s block and is struggling to figure out how to end the film. Viewers will get the impression that Chris and Tony are relatively content with each other, but there’s no real passion in their marriage. They act more like roommates who get along with each other and respect each other.

Chris and Tony aren’t exactly bored with each other, but for a great deal of the trip, they don’t really care to spend a lot of time together. They also make a lot of small talk with each other, as if they’ve run out of meaningful things to discuss. Chris and Tony go on some sightseeing tours together, but at some point, Chris (who gets more screen time than Tony) ends up doing her own activities. It becomes very apparent that Chris and Tony also have very different personalities, which affects how they approach the trip.

A lot of “Bergman Island” is about Chris and Tony meeting some of the local Bergman historians, having dinners with them and going on some sightseeing excursions. However, Chris is a lot more outgoing than introverted Tony. She’s also more interested in meeting new people and having inquisitive conversations with them about their lives, in contrast to to Tony, who limits his conversations with strangers to polite small talk.

Chris is worried about how she’s going to finish her screenplay. Tony doesn’t offer much support because creativity comes easier for him, so he can’t really relate to her writer’s block. It’s implied that Tony doesn’t write a lot of the movies that he directs. He also refrains from giving advice because he thinks that Chris should find her own creative path without interference from him.

While Tony is content to spend time relaxing in their resort room, Chris is more adventurous and spends more time exploring areas on her own and interacting with some of the local people she meets. One of them is a man in his 20s named Hampus (played by Hampus Nordenson), a film student who tells Chris that his grandparents are originally from Fårö. Hampus and Chris end up spending a lot of time alone together, as he shows her places that are not the usual tourist spots.

At one point, Hampus and Chris end up frolicking on a secluded beach with other, in a platonic way. There are hints that Chris and Hampus have a mild attraction to each other, but neither of them acts on it. Hampus and Chris enjoy each other’s company and find out that they have similar tastes in movies and literature.

If “Bergman Island” followed the usual movie formula about a married couple with not much passion in their relationship, someone in Chris and Tony’s marriage would be tempted to commit infidelity on this romantic island. There are hints that Tony has sexual thoughts that he’s not sharing openly with Chris. Shortly after they arrive Fårö, Chris sees in Tony’s journal that he has sketched some drawings of a naked woman in various bondage poses and sexual positions. Next to one of the sketches are these words: “Who are you? You or me?”

Is Tony having an affair? Is he secretly lusting for another woman but hasn’t committed infidelity with her? Or is he just interested in drawing erotic sketches? Don’t expect any answers in this movie. Chris seems somewhat surprised at what she’s discovered in Tony’s journal, but she says nothing to Tony about it because she probably doesn’t want to be accused of snooping.

Chris is more preoccupied with her unfinished screenplay than thinking about infidelity. But it isn’t until the last third of “Bergman Island” that she opens up to Tony and tells him what her screenplay is about, in order to maybe get some feedback or advice from him. When she tells Tony what’s in the screenplay plot so far, the story is depicted on screen in the story-within-a-story part of “Bergman Island.”

The protagonist of Chris’ screenplay is a woman in her 30s named Amy (played by Mia Wasikowska), who’s had a tumultuous on-again/off-again love affair with a guy named Joseph (played by Anders Danielsen Lie), ever since she was 15 and he was 17. It’s unknown if their teenage romance is depicted in Chris’ screenplay. What Chris describes to Tony is the part of the screenplay that is supposed to lead to the ending that Chris has a hard time completing.

After years of not being in contact with each other, Amy and Joseph happen to see each other again because they are guests at a mutual friend’s destination wedding. Amy is now a single mother who is currently not involved in a love relationship. Joseph is not the father of Amy’s child, and Amy doesn’t want to talk about the father of her child.

Meanwhile, Joseph is a never-married bachelor with no children, but he has a serious girlfriend named Michelle back at home whom he says he’s probably going to marry. Amy is not happy to hear this news, because Amy has unresolved feelings for Joseph. It’s enough to say that there are still romantic sparks between Amy and Joseph. Will they or won’t they end up together?

Although all of the principal actors in “Bergman Island” give very good performances (Wasikowska is the standout), the movie seems a little off-kilter by introducing this secondary plot so late in the story. A better narrative structure would have been to weave the secondary story into the main plot in a more seamless way instead of rushing it in toward the last third of the film. Truth be told, Amy and Joseph are a much more intriguing couple than Chris and Tony.

It’s not only because Tony and Chris have settled into a boring marriage. Amy and Joseph just have more interesting things to say to each other. Amy and Joseph are also more passionate with each other and better at expressing themselves, maybe because there’s a lot more at stake with their emotions than “safe” couple Chris and Tony.

“Bergman Island” has some gorgeous cinematography and great scenic shots of Fårö. This movie should be a treat for people who are Bergman fans, since there are plenty of references to his work and personal life in the movie. Without the subplot about Amy and Joseph, “Bergman Island” would not be as compelling to watch. Don’t be surprised if you almost wish that Amy and Joseph’s story had been the main plot, because it seems like Amy and Joseph’s screen time ends too soon.

IFC Films released “Bergman Island” in select U.S. cinemas on October 15, 2021.

Review: ‘The Evil Next Door,’ starring Dilan Gwyn and Eddie Eriksson Dominguez

July 8, 2021

by Carla Hay

Eddie Eriksson Dominguez in “The Evil Next Door” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“The Evil Next Door”

Directed by Oskar Mellender and Tord Danielsson

Swedish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in Sweden in 2014, the horror film “The Evil Next Door” has an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A widower, his live-in girlfriend and the widower’s young son move to a new house, where the boy seems to have found a mysterious friend with sinister intentions.

Culture Audience: “The Evil Next Door” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching a slow-paced and boring horror movie with a “haunted house” concept that has been done many times before and much better in other movies.

Dilan Gwyn in “The Evil Next Door” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

The epitome of dull and derivative, “The Evil Next Door” is a poorly made ripoff of higher-quality horror films about haunted houses where a child is the first person in the house to communicate with the evil spirit. And predictably, the evil spirit wants to kidnap the child. It’s a concept that was done well in movies such as 1982’s “Poltergeist” and 2014’s “The Babadook.” But “The Evil Next Door” brings nothing new or imaginative to this concept and wastes a lot of time with repetitive scenes, generic characters who act illogically, and scare set-ups that aren’t terrifying at all.

Written and directed by Oskar Mellender and Tord Danielsson, “The Evil Next Door” is the duo’s first feature film, after years of working in Swedish television. According to a statement that Danielsson makes in “The Evil Next Door” production notes, the movie is supposedly based on the real-life experience of “a family who claimed to have experienced something very scary and paranormal in 2014. According to them, some kind of entity had tried to take their child.” Danielsson says that he and Mellender “came in contact with” this family, which wants to remain anonymous. But apparently, this filmmaking duo learned nothing about what to put in a movie that would make this story interesting or convincing in what real people would do in this situation.

“The Evil Next Door” takes place in an unnamed city in Sweden in 2014. The opening scene is set in a stereotypically spooky-looking dark house. A mother—viewers find out later that her name is Jenny Lindvall (played by Karin Lithman)—frantically searches for her daughter Kim (played by Hilma Alm), who’s about 5 or 6 years old. There’s a brief flash of Kim being dragged screaming into another room, while Jenny runs into the room, only to find it empty.

The next scene shows a family of three driving to the place that will eventually become their new home. (It’s the same house.) In the car are widower Fredrik (played by Linus Wahlgren); his son Lucas (played by Eddie Eriksson Dominguez), who’s about 5 or 6 years old; and Fredrik’s girlfriend Shirin (played by Dilan Gwyn), who seems a little nervous. Shirin is feeling anxious because this move is a big step for her and Fredrik. Not only will it be the first time that the couple will be living together, but they will also be buying the house.

It’s such a big commitment that even Lucas is aware of it. While Fredrik is out of the car to get gas, Lucas asks Shirin if she will be his new mother if she and Fredrik move in together. Shirin uneasily replies no. And she feels even more ill at ease when Lucas asks her, “Will you die too?” It’s revealed later in the movie that Lucas’ mother (whose name is never mentioned) died of cancer, but the movie never says how long ago that happened.

After getting a brief tour of the house from a real-estate agent, Fredrik and Shirin decide to buy it. Their move-in date is September 26, 2014. “The Evil Next Door,” which has the pace of a snail, keeps showing the date for each of the movie’s sequences, so that viewers can eventually see that everything that happens in this story occurred within one month. In this story, it takes several days for them to get to the real horror. The movie is only 87 minutes long, but it feels like longer.

Throughout the movie, it’s shown that while Fredrik has a close and loving relationship with Lucas, Shirin still feels like an outsider in this family, when it comes to parenting Lucas. For example, there’s more than one scene where Shirin watches somewhat enviously when Fredrik sings a goodnight lullaby with Lucas before Lucas goes to sleep. When Shirin is alone with Lucas, she acts more like a slightly uncomfortable babysitter than a parental figure, although slowly (which is how this movie operates) Shirin begins to warm up to Lucas. Shirin and the rest of the characters in the movie still have nothing charismatic or memorable about their personalities.

“The Evil Next Door” is so badly written, there’s no backstory explaining how long Fredrik and Shirin have been together. Shirin doesn’t have a job, while Fredrik has a vague, unnamed job where he wears a building construction or maintenance jacket at a place that looks like a non-descript warehouse. It’s a new job for Fredrik that requires him to work weeknights “for a while,” as he tells Shirin, who encouraged Fredrik to take the job.

The movie has somewhat of a sexist implication that because a man won’t be in the house at night, that will put Shirin and Lucas in more danger. It doesn’t take long for Lucas to tell Shirin that he’s found a “friend” in the house. Lucas starts talking to this “friend,” who’s a boy whom Shirin can’t see, so she assumes that Lucas has an imaginary playmate.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of “The Evil Next Door” is a repetitive cycle of Lucas talking about or talking to this “friend,” and Shirin not believing that this “friend” is real. She finds out that Lucas has mentioned this “friend” to his schoolteacher and classmates. And predictably, Lucas draws a picture of himself with the “friend,” which looks like a sinister black stick figure. It’s what you do when you’re a kid with an unseen friend in a dumb haunted house movie.

“The Evil Next Door” also has unncessary scenes (which are all a red herring) to make it look like the evil spirit could be in the house next door. Lucas insists that this mystery boy who wants to be his friend lives next door. It’s all just time-wasting nonsense, because it’s easy to see that the evil spirit is inside the house where Lucas, Shirin and Fredrik live. Most of the movie is an irritating repeat loop of Lucas hearing a boy whispering to him in rooms, followed by brief glimpses of what looks like a boy running across the screen or lurking in rooms before disappearing.

Meanwhile, Lucas asks Shirin questions about the afterlife, such as if someone can come back from the dead to live on Earth again. She says no. Lucas doesn’t seem to like that answer because he wants to see his dead mother again. When Shirin tells Lucas that there is no boy next door, Lucas pouts and tells her, “You’re mean. You’re not my mother.”

There’s also a creepy attic in the house that Shirin only goes into and explores at night, because in idiotic horror movies like this one, people never go into a creepy attic during the day. As soon as viewers see that this house has an attic, you just know there’s going to be a scene where someone is going to get attacked in the attic. It’s just all so formulaic.

Eventually, Shirin has supernatural experiences herself. She knocks on a wall and hears someone or something inside the wall knocking in response. Then she sees a shadowy-looking boy running across the lawn outside. She’s so freaked out that she calls Fredrik and the police, who find nothing out of the ordinary. Fredrik starts to think that Shirin might be going crazy.

Meanwhile, Lucas warns Shirin that a bogeyman is out to get him and that it’s the bogeyman who did the knocking inside the walls—the same walls where Lucas could hear his mystery “friend” talk. Kid, make up your mind. Are you being haunted by a boy or a bogeyman? Cue the predictable scenes of Lucas being dragged out of bed by an unknown force, Shirin rushing into a room when she hears Lucas screaming, and then finding nothing there.

After a while, Fredrik begins to think Shirin might be abusing Lucas, because every time Fredrik comes home from work, he hears stories about Lucas being frightened and physically attacked by something unexplained. Shirin denies abusing Lucas, of course, but it puts a big strain on her relationship with Fredrik. She begs Lucas to confirm to Fredrik that she’s telling the truth, but the kid is no real help.

Apparently, dimwits Fredrik and Shirin bought the house without bothering to find out anything about the house’s previous owners and why the house was being sold. When strange things start happening in the house, Fredrik and Shirin still don’t bother to find out the house’s background story. It’s only when Shirin is at an outdoor neighborhood family event with Lucas that she hears from a local mother named Tilda (played by Kima Heibel) what happened to the house’s previous owners.

The house’s previous owners—a married couple named Peter Lindvall (played by Henrik Norlén) and Jenny Lindvall—sold the house, because shortly after they moved in, their daughter Kim disappeared. This information finally prompts Shirin to do an Internet search for more details. She finds a newspaper article online that confirms that the Lindvalls’ child Kim had disappeared.

This movie is so stupid, it has a subplot where Shirin thinks that Kim is a boy, and she thinks that he’s the same boy who is Lucas’ imaginary friend. Never mind that the movie clearly showed in the beginning that the Kim was a girl. And any newspaper article or media story about the child’s disappearance would also identify Kim as a girl.

One of the most annoying things about “The Evil Next Door”—besides being so tedious, unoriginal and badly written—is the terrible cinematography. For the horror scenes, everything is too dark inside, even in the daytime. It’s unrealistic and tries too hard to look scary, which results in it looking overly staged and not scary at all. Even the scenes inside the house at night are ridiculously dark. It will just make viewers think, “Don’t these people know how to turn on the lights in their own house?”

The screenwriting also has plot developments that go nowhere. For example, Shirin buys a hidden camera that she installs in Lucas’ room. The first time that Shirin monitors the room with the camera, she sees the mystery boy and gets scared. And then she never uses the camera again. If she wanted to prove that something eerie was going on in Lucas’ room, then apparently using the camera’s recording function was just too mentally hard for her.

And viewers should forget about finding out what happened to Kim, because that issue is never resolved in the movie. Why bother with that opening scene when it ends up being useless? It’s an example of the movie’s sloppy editing, that includes jump cut scenes that show Shirin in one area of a room and then one second later, she’s in another area of the room when it would’ve been physically impossible for her to get there so quickly. It’s very amateurish filmmaking.

It should come as no surprise that the creature haunting this house really is a bogeyman monster, which is played by Troy James, a contortionist who has done similar roles in the horror movies “Separation” and “Black Box.” All of the acting is nothing special, although Ericsson Dominguez’s portrayal of Lucas shows he has promise as an actor who’s capable of a convincing range of emotions. It’s too bad all of this movie’s cast members were limited by such a moronic screenplay.

The final showdown scene and how this movie ends are as bland and cliché as can be. Even people who don’t watch a lot of horror movies will be underwhelmed, because everything in “The Evil Next Door” was done already in other movies. There’s some familiarity in horror movies that can be effective if a movie brings some original scares. “The Evil Next Door” just lazily copies what too many other haunted house movies have done and makes it worse with stale and substandard writing and directing.

Magnet Releasing released “The Evil Next Door” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on June 25, 2021.

Review: ‘The Unthinkable,’ starring Christoffer Nordenrot, Lisa Henni, Jesper Barkselius and Pia Halvorsen

May 29, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jesper Barkselius and Christoffer Nordenrot in “The Unthinkable” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“The Unthinkable”

Directed by Crazy Pictures

Swedish and Russian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Sweden, the dramatic thriller “The Unthinkable” features an all-white cast representing the middle-class during an apocalyptic “weapons of mass destruction” attack.

Culture Clash: During this attack, a professional musician has to come to terms with his fractured relationship with his father and his unresolved feelings about a past love from his teenage years.

Culture Audience: “The Unthinkable” will appeal primarily to people who like epic-styled disaster films that are a little on the artsy side and have more character development than most other disaster movies.

Lisa Henni and Christoffer Nordenrot in “The Unthinkable” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

You know how a lot of disaster movies get a lot of criticism for not having enough character development or backstories for the main characters? The Swedish film “The Unthinkable” attempts to prevent that type of criticism, by having such a detailed personal history about the movie’s protagonist, viewers might be wondering at what point in the movie that the disaster action is going to start. Leading up to the beginning of the apocalyptic “weapons of mass destruction” attacks that hit Sweden in “The Unthinkable,” there’s a prolonged section of the movie that shows the protagonist’s angst-filled teenage life, about 10 years before the disaster happens.

If viewers have the patience to sit through this backstory, it has a payoff at the film’s conclusion, which can be best be described as walking a fine line between artsy and schmaltzy. “The Unthinkable” is the first feature film written and directed by Crazy Pictures, a collective co-founded by five Swedish filmmakers who are longtime friends: Victor Danell, Hannes Krantz, Albin Pettersson, Rasmus Rasmark and Olle Tholen. Crazy Pictures is also credited with several other technical aspects of “The Unthinkable,” including cinematography, production design, casting, costume design and visual/special effects.

“The Unthinkable” starts off looking like it’s a turbulent teenage drama, because it shows the unhappy home life of Alexander “Alex” Stenberg (played by Christoffer Nordenrot), who’s about 16 or 17 years old and who has no siblings. Alex is a sensitive and talented aspiring musician, but he doesn’t have the respect of his domineering and bad-tempered father Björn (played by Jesper Barkselius), who thinks Alex is a wimp and constantly belittles Alex. Alex’s mother Klara (played by Ulrika Bäckström) encourages Alex to be himself, but Klara is also the target of Björn’s verbal abuse, and she’s generally passive in this marriage.

The Stenberg family lives in an unnamed suburban city in Sweden, where Björn has experience working with computers and in security jobs. During the period of time shown of Alex’s teenage life, his family is struggling financially, but Björn is too proud to let other people outside the family know about it. It’s close to the Christmas holiday season, and Alex has asked for a guitar for Christmas. Björn just irritably replies that Alex already has a new computer.

Alex’s closest and only friend is a girl named Anna (played by Lisa Henni), who is about the same age as Alex. Anna is a pianist who hasn’t played the piano since her father died. Alex and Anna have talked about forming a musical duo together, but those plans never happen because Anna is about to move to Stockholm with her mother. Alex and Anna love each other, but they were never really a couple in a romantic/dating relationship. Still, it’s strongly hinted that their close friendship could have blossomed into a romance if they had the chance to spend more time together instead of Anna moving away.

When the Christmas holiday comes up, and it’s time to open Christmas gifts, Björn goes into his garage and takes out an old acoustic guitar of his, which he refurbished to give as a surprise gift to Alex. Just as he’s about to present the gift to Alex, Björn sees that Klara has bought a new acoustic guitar as Alex’s big Christmas gift. Alex loves this gift from Klara, but his joy is short-lived because Björn then flies into a rage.

First, Björn hides the guitar that he was going to give to Alex. Then, Björn yells at Klara for using some of their savings to buy Alex a guitar. Björn calls his wife a “bitch” for this act of generosity. Then, Björn takes both guitars into the garage and destroys them by smashing them. Björn then goes back into the main house and continues to argue with Klara.

During this argument, Alex overhears Björn call him a “spoiled, bloody wimp” and a “bully magnet.” Needless to say, it’s a miserable Christmas for this family. Shortly after this incident, Alex can no longer take living with Björn anymore. When they argue, Alex shouts, “I hate you!” to Björn.

And then, Alex runs away to live with his understanding uncle Erik (played by Niklas Jarneheim), who is Klara’s brother. Erik gives Alex a temporary place to stay. Erik’s job isn’t specifically stated, but he apparently manages an apartment building, where there’s a vacant apartment unit that’s undergoing renovations. Erik tells Alex he can stay in this empty apartment, but not for long. Alex finds an abandoned piano in the apartment and starts playing it.

The movie then fast-forwards 10 years later. Alex is now a successful, Stockholm-based musician who performs as a solo artist making instrumental music. He has an elaborate musical set-up where he plays multiple keyboards hooked up to several computer units. His music is a mix of classical and electronica.

Alex is able to draw crowds large enough to hold a few thousand people per venue. During one of his performances, he abruptly ends the concert because he seems emotionally troubled by something. He gets a standing ovation anyway.

After this concert, tragedy strikes. The Slussen subway station in Stockholm has experienced several explosions. And then, while he’s outside, Alex witnesses the collapse of a bridge. Thousands of people are panicking over what appears to be a terrorist attack.

Unfortunately, Alex soon finds out that his mother Klara was one of the victims who died during this attack. Even though Alex plans to continue his concert tour with a scheduled performance in Berlin, he takes time out to attend his mother’s funeral. He’s heartbroken over his mother’s death, but his way of coping is to continue working as much as he can.

It’s during this part of the movie that viewers find out that Klara and Björn have been divorced for years, Alex is still estranged from his father, and Alex has no intention of telling Björn about the funeral. When Alex’s uncle Erik asks Alex if Björn will be at the funeral, Alex lies by saying that Björn told Alex that he wasn’t interested in attending.

And what is Björn up to now? He’s a bitter and lonely conspiracy theorist who works in a security department for an unnamed employer. Björn suspects that the recent attacks in Stockholm are from Russians. However, most of the general public and the media have the theory that ISIS is responsible. And later, that theory seems to be correct, when it’s reported in the news that ISIS has taken responsibility for the attacks.

Björn has two co-workers who spend the most time with him in their dingy, isolated warehouse-like workspace. Lasse (played by Håkan Ehn), who’s in his 60s, is a bigot who says, “Computers and immigrants, that’s what’s ruining Sweden.” Konny (played by Magnus Sundberg), who’s in his late 20s or early 30s, is more easygoing than Lasse. Konny and Lasse both think that Björn is eccentric and possibly a little crazy, because of Björn’s conspiracy theories, so they sometimes laugh at Björn and scoff at him about his paranoid beliefs.

Soon, the Midsummer holiday happens. And all hell breaks loose. For Björn, it starts when he catches a mysterious male stranger trespassing in a wooded area that is a government-protected area and off-limits to the general public. This trespasser, who has a German accent, appears to be picking berries.

When Björn asks this stranger to see his passport as identification, Björn is hit on the head with a shovel. And when he regains consciousness, the man who assaulted him is gone. Björn reports this attack, but there are much worse things to come in the story.

The rest of “The Unthinkable” shows how Sweden reacts to even more attacks that aren’t just bombs but full-on environmental warfare. This is the type of story where you know that people will be hiding where they can, stuck in places where they don’t want to be stuck, and separated from their loved ones.

Because of Klara’s funeral and the Midsummer holiday, Alex is back in his suburban hometown and happens to see Anna, his former would-be sweetheart from high school. Alex and Anna haven’t seen or talked to each other in several years. Anna seems to indicate to him that she’s interested in getting together with Alex after all these years that they haven’t been in contact with each other. And then more attacks happen. Anna and Alex have to flee for their lives in Alex’s car. Anna is worried about finding her mother Eva (played by Pia Halvorsen), who is Sweden’s minister of rural affairs.

There are other relatives of Anna who get separated from her at one point or another, including her 5-year-old daughter Elin (played by Lo Lexfors); Anna’s live-in partner Kim (played by Krister Kern), who is Elin’s father; and Anna’s grandmother, who is desperate to get back to her husband Ake. Anna didn’t tell Alex right away that she’s a mother and has a live-in boyfriend, so it leads to Alex feeling insulted and hurt because he was hoping to start a romance with Anna. Even during this disaster, Anna drops strong hints that she has unresolved feelings for Alex too and that her relationship with Kim doesn’t mean as much to her as it should.

And in a disaster movie where the protagonist has “daddy issues,” it’s easy to predict that Alex and Björn will cross paths again. Will they be able to resolve their differences? Will Alex get another chance to be with Anna? Who’s going to survive and who’s going to die? And who’s behind this massacre attack on Sweden? All of those questions are answered in “The Unthinkable,” which spends the last third of the movie going through a lot of familiar motions that people have come to expect from disaster flicks.

The visual effects for “The Unthinkable” are actually quite good for this low-budget film. And the acting, particularly from Nordenrot (who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay), is compelling enough to carry the entire movie. It’s clear that the filmmakers did not want this movie’s protagonist to be a typical athletic action hero. The movie intends to show what an “ordinary person” such as Alex does in a crisis, so that who he is in this story can be more relatable to audience members.

And he’s also not a typical protagonist in a disaster movie because Alex (a never-married bachelor with no children) is someone who is very much alone in the world with no one he considers his family, except for his uncle Erik. Alex cut himself off from his father years ago, and it’s later revealed in the movie that Alex’s late mother Klara left her abusive marriage to Björn before they officially divorced.

The protagonist in “The Unthinkable” might not be typical for a disaster movie, but the movie doesn’t veer far from the disaster movie formula that audiences have come to expect. One major exception—which is a bit far-fetched, even for a movie—in this story, Sweden has refused help from other countries’ military forces to defend Sweden during this extraordinarily disastrous attack. “The Unthinkable” is not a groundbreaking movie at all, but it delivers enough suspense and watchable performances to make it an entertaining thriller for most of its long running time.

Magnolia Pictures’ Magnet Releasing released “The Unthinkable” in select U.S. cinemas and on digital and VOD on May 7, 2021. The movie was originally released in Sweden in 2018.

Review: ‘About Endlessness,’ starring Martin Serner, Jan-Eje Ferling and Bengt Bergius

Stefan Karlsson (with stick) and Martin Serner (with cross) in “About Endlessness” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

May 4, 2021

by Carla Hay

“About Endlessness”

Directed by Roy Andersson

Swedish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Sweden and briefly in Norway, the atmospheric dramedy “About Endlessness” features a predominantly white cast (with some people of Arabic heritage) representing mostly middle-class people from various walks of life.

Culture Clash: Various characters in the movie express angst about themselves or other people. 

Culture Audience: “About Endlessness” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching slow-paced films that don’t have a plot but present various scenarios that are meant to reflect the human condition.

Jan-Eje Ferling (standing in front) in “About Endlessness” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

There’s a good chance that people who watch “About Endlessness” are already familiar with the work of the movie’s director, Roy Andersson, a Swedish filmmaker who’s made a name for himself with his brand of slow-paced, absurdist observations of life. But if people aren’t familiar with Andersson’s work, “About Endlessness” might be a curious and often-frustrating hodgepodge of vingnettes that range from provocative to mundane. “About Endlessness” isn’t for everyone, but if people are interested in watching an artsy, plot-less meditation on timeless human qualities, then the movie takes viewers on an unpredictable ride.

It’s clear from watching “About Endlessness” that the title of the movie comes from the movie’s concept that no matter what happens in the past, present or future, some things won’t change about humanity. “About Endlessness” presents a series of scenarios, where most of the characters do not have names. The scenarios are mostly “slice of life” and represent a broad range of emotions, which are usually expressed in a deadpan manner.

Ech scenario usually features long stretches of silence. A group of people could be gathered somewhere, such as in a food market or a restaurant, and it’s eerily silent, without the usual buzz of several people talking at once in different conversatons. This filmmaking technique works best if viewers aren’t expecting to see a movie with a typical story in three acts. Viewers also have to be in the mood for a movie that lingers on characters who don’t do much and seem deep in thought. In other words, “About Endlessness” is the opposite of an adrenaline-pumping action movie.

Guiding viewers through this series of short scenarios is a female voice providing narration. She will begin each sentence with the words “I saw,” as the scenario plays out on screen. For example, there’s a scene with a man in his bedroom, patting his mattress before he kneels down to pray and settles into his bed. The narrator says, “I saw a man who didn’t trust banks, so he kept his savings in his mattress.”

In another scene, a middle-aged man and woman are at a graveyard. The narrator says, “I saw two parents who lost their son in the war.” The mother talks to her son (whose name is Tommy) at the son’s grave, while the father waters the flowers that will be put on the grave.

At a train station, a women in her 30s disembarks from a train and looks around and appears annoyed. She sits down on a bench on the platform. The narrator says, “I saw a woman who thought no one was waiting for her.” Eventually, a man runs up the stairs to the platform, with the demeanor of someone who is late. He and the woman leave together without saying a word.

Another scene shows a young woman in her late teens or early 20s watering a plant outside of a beauty spa. She appears to work at the spa. Just as she goes inside, a young man who’s about the same age, comes out of a business next door, goes outside on the sidewalk, and stares wistfully at her. The narrator says, “I saw a young man who had not yet found love.”

You get the idea. Usually, once a scenario is shown, the people in that scenario are not seen again in the movie. There are a few exceptions. A recurring character throughout the movie (and the one who gets the most screen time) is an unnamed priest (played by Martin Serner), who’s going through a crisis of faith.

He’s first seen carrying a crucifix on a winding street and wearing a crown of thorns (like Jesus Christ), while various people physically assault him, by whipping him, hitting him, or beating him with a stick. Is this a re-enactment of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ? No, it turns out it’s just a nightmare that the priest is having.

He wakes up next to his wife after having this nightmare. And he tells her, “They drove nails through his hands!” Later, the priest visits a psychiatrist named Dr. Lindh (played by Bengt Bergius), who tells the priest that it’s normal to have bad dreams. The priest tells the psychiatrist that he began having nightmares around the same time he began losing his faith in God. They agree to make an appoinment for the following week.

But before the next appointment can happen, the next time the movie shows the priest, he’s in a private chamber room at a church while his congregation is waiting in the next room for a chruch service. The priest takes a swig of wine from a bottle and gives the appearance of being drunk, because he is unsteady on his feet. He stumbles into the main church service area and serves communion to his parishioners.

At an unspecified time later, the priest shows up unannounced at the psychiatrist’s office, which is about to close for the day. The priest shouts several times, “What should I do now that I’ve lost my faith?” The psychiatrist’s secretary (played by Anja Broms) tells the priest that the office is about to close and that he needs to come back when he has his appointment. The priest doesn’t want to leave. Eventually, the psychiatrist and the secretary forcefully make the priest leave the office by literally shoving him out of the door.

There’s another character who is in more than one scenario in the movie. He’s a middle-aged man who first appears near the beginning of the movie. The man (played by Jan-Eje Ferlin) is standing at the top of the stairs outside of a train station. And he begins to talk about how he keeps seeing a former schoolmate named Sverker Olsson walking near him, but Sverker snubs him when he says hello.

Just then, another middle-agded man walks out of the train station. The first man says the second man is Sverker’s name, and he says hello to Sverker. But the man identified as Sverker keeps walking, as if he never heard this former schoolmate try to talk to him.

Later, the snubbed schoolmate is shown in his kitchen with his wife sitting at a nearby table. The ma then starts to rant about Sverker snumbbing him and then repeats that he can’t believe that Sverker has a Ph. D. This character is a satirically deapan embodiment on human insecurity that can lead to jealousy.

There are more scenarios, some more memorable than others. A man named Torbjörn has an uncomfortable visit with his dentist named Hasse (played by Thore Flygel). An army of men, identified by the narrator as prisoners of war, are shown marching silently in Siberia to their prison camp. A grandmother joyfully takes photos of her baby grandson outside of a building, while the baby’s father holds the child and the baby’s mother stands nearby. A man helps his daughter ties her shoelaces during a walk in the rain on her birthday.

“About Endlessness” does have some dark moments. One is showing a Middle-Eastern/Arabic man, crying and looking distressed while sitting down in a living room in disarray, as if a physical altercation had taken place there. The man is holding his dead teenage daughter, who has a large bloodstain on her chest.

The man’s wife and teenage son are standing nearby watching, as if they’re in shock and don’t know what to do. Viewers soon see that the father is holding a knife. And then, the narrator explains the horror of what happened: The father had murdered his daughter in an “honor killing” and changed his mind after it was too late.

In another scene, about four Nazi soldiers are in a bomb-shelter room, as bombs can be heard going of outside the building. Based on the soldiers’ demeanor, it’s the end of World War II, and they are experiencing defeat. One soldier is already drunk, while the others look like they’re in a daze.

The narrator says, “I saw a man who wanted to conquer the world and realized that he would fail.” And then, Adolf Hitler (played by Magnus Wallgren) walks into the room, and he also seems to be in shock over the defeat. And then, the drunk soldier gives a Nazi salute to Hitler and says, “Sieg Heil,” which is a victory salute in German. It’s a dark comedic way of showing that, even in defeat, Hitler and his brainwashed followers were clinging to a delusional sense of superiority.

Most of the characters in “About Endlessness” are rooted is some type of realistic scenario. The exceptions are fantastical characters (a man and a woman) who are seen floating through the air while they cling to each other. The movie’s narrator says, “I saw a couple, two lovers, floating above the city.” Because of its slow pace and snippets of life that aren’t tied to any big story, watching “About Endlessness” is a lot like that dream-like state of mind that can happen before someone goes to sleep. Knowing that before watching the movie will affect your expectations.

Magnolia Pictures released “About Endlessness” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on April 30, 2021.

ABBA reunites for new song to be revealed in TV special

May 4, 2018

by Gwen Kirkland

ABBA
ABBA, pictured from left to right: Benny Andersson, Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. (Photo by Torbjörn Calvero © Premium Rockshot)

ABBA Fever is re-igniting in 2018. The four members ABBA (the biggest-selling music act from Sweden) have reunited for a new song: “I Still Have Faith in You,” which will debut in a worldwide TV special “ABBA: Thank You for the Music, An All-Star Tribute” that will air in December 2018 on a date to be announced. NBC has the U.S. telecast of the concert.

ABBA formed 1972, with the group’s name being an acronym of the members’s first names: Agnetha Fältskog (vocals),  Björn Ulvaeus (guitar), Anni-Frid Lyngstad (vocals) and Benny Andersson (keyboards). At the height of ABBA’s success, Fältskog and Björn Ulvaeus were married to each other, and Lyngstad and Andersson were married to each other, but both couples would eventually get divorced. ABBA had an unbroken strong of hits until the group’s breakup in 1982, including “Waterloo,” “Dancing Queen,” “Fernando,” “Take a Chance on Me,” “Mamma Mia,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You” and “Winner Takes It All.”

Since ABBA’s breakup, the music has been kept alive through tribute bands and the stage musical “Mamma Mia!,” which became a 2008 Universal Pictures movie starring Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Dominic Cooper, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård and Christine Baranski. “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” (the sequel to 2008’s “Mamma Mia!”) reunites the “Mamma Mia!” movie’s cast for more ABBA music, and will include new cast member Cher.  “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” is set for release in cinemas on July 20, 2018. (NBC and Universal Pictures are both owned by NBCUniversal.)

The following is a press release by NBC about the ABBA special:

Paying homage to one of the most influential groups of all time, NBC is celebrating Sweden’s most popular export with “ABBA: Thank You for the Music, An All-Star Tribute.” The two-hour special, set to air in December, will showcase specially invited artists performing classic songs made famous by ABBA, including “Dancing Queen”, “Mamma Mia”, The Winner Takes It All” and “Take A Chance On Me”.

The once-in-a-lifetime event will be broadcast around the world to a global audience. BBC Worldwide will handle the international distribution.

One of the bestselling music groups of all time with album and single sales of 385 million, the four members of ABBA – Agnetha Faltskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Anderson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad – will be debuting their first new song in 35 years, written by Andersson and Ulvaeus. It is set to be performed by virtual ABBA, a state-of-the-art digital representation of the band in 1979 but voiced and recorded by ABBA today.

Agnetha, Benny, Björn and Anni-Frid said: “The decision to go ahead with the exciting ABBA avatar tour project had an unexpected consequence. We all four felt that, after some 35 years, it could be fun to join forces again and go into the recording studio. So we did. And it was like time had stood still and that we only had been away on a short holiday. An extremely joyful experience! It resulted in two new songs and one of them “I Still Have Faith In You” will be performed by our digital selves in a TV special produced by NBC and the BBC aimed for broadcasting in December. We may have come of age, but the song is new. And it feels good”.

The telecast will be produced and directed by Johan Renck and executive produced by Simon Fuller, with Es Devlin on board as set designer.

“There is a lot of music in the DNA of NBC and we are so proud that the iconic members of ABBA and world-class producer Simon Fuller chose us to bring this incredible tribute special to the world,” said Robert Greenblatt, Chairman, NBC Entertainment.

Added Paul Telegdy, President, Alternative and Reality Group, NBC Entertainment, “This network is also thrilled to be the home of brand new ABBA music for the first time in decades. It’s a gift.”

Simon Fuller said: “It has been such a pleasure to work with ABBA. To see their unique talent, passion and attention to every detail has been enlightening and a true honor. In this global TV event we will be able to celebrate the music of ABBA and see other incredible artists perform their wonderful songs. I still can’t believe we will also be showcasing a new song, the first in over 35 years, which is set to ignite a whole new timeless journey in their incredible career.”

Johan Renck said: “As an adult, to find a new relation and perspective to the music that formed your childhood is a formidable thing, I feel tremendously fortunate to engage in this journey with a group that played such an integral part of my upbringing. We can’t wait to make this event come to life.”

ABOUT ABBA

The ABBA story began in the 1960s when Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson first met in Sweden and became songwriting partners. By 1969, they had met Agnetha Faltskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad and, after musical collaboration on each other’s solo and duo acts, they began their career together as ABBA, achieving superstardom with their breakthrough hit “Waterloo,” winning the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, charting at No. 1 across Europe and reaching the Top 10 in the U.S.

In the years that followed, ABBA became successful around the world, releasing eight studio albums, two live albums, seven compilation albums, four tours and 73 singles. To date they have sold 380 million albums and singles worldwide. They became the first music group from a non-English speaking country to top the charts in English-speaking countries and their distinctive ’70s-style costumes became synonymous with their unique look and sound.

Topping the charts globally from 1974-82, many of ABBA’s songs have become timeless classics internationally. ABBA placed 20 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 with 14 making the Top 40 and 10 soaring to the Top 20. “Dancing Queen” became a No. 1 hit in 1977 in the U.S. while “Take a Chance on Me,” “Waterloo” and “The Winner Takes It All” peaked at No. 3, No. 6 and No. 8, respectively. In the U.K., ABBA had nine No. 1 singles, including “Dancing Queen” and “Super Trouper,” 19 Top 10 hits and 26 in the Top 40s. Collectively, their singles retained entries in the U.K. Top 75 chart for a total of 260 weeks. They were named Vocal Group of the Year by the American Guild of Variety Artists in 1981 and won nine Bravo Otto Awards between 1974-82. In 2010, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Barry and Robin Gibb.

In 1999, ABBA’s songs were the inspiration for the West End and Broadway hit musical “Mamma Mia!” and the film that followed, “Mamma Mia!” became a box office smash, and became the fifth highest-grossing film of 2008. The 2018 seque,l “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” starring Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan, Amanda Seyfried, Christine Baranski, Stellan Skarsgård, Julie Walters and Dominic Cooper, is set for global release in July.

ABOUT SIMON FULLER

Simon Fuller is an entrepreneur, artist manager, film and television producer, best known as the creator of “American Idol.” Fuller is also the executive producer of hit shows and films including “So You Think You Can Dance,” “Q’Viva,” “Spiceworld The Movie” and “My Generation,” starring Sir Michael Caine. An influential figure in British popular culture, Fuller first came to prominence managing the pop group Spice Girls though he has since guided a range of talent that includes David and Victoria Beckham, Annie Lennox, Steven Tyler, Lewis Hamilton, Andy Murray, Amy Winehouse, Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Lisa Marie Presley and others. In 2008, Fuller was certified as the most successful British music manager of all time by Billboard magazine. Fuller received the 2,441st star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2011. Today his business interests extend across the world and include high-value ventures in content production, branded goods and innovative ventures in music, leisure and technology. Fuller’s XIX Entertainment is represented by Frankfurt Kurnit Klein + Selz PC.

ABOUT JOHAN RENCK

Johan Renck is one of the most respected and sought after directors of television series, commercials and music videos of today. You will have seen his name as a director of your favorite TV shows such as “Breaking Bad,” “The Walking Dead,” “Vikings,” “Bloodline” and “Last Panthers.” Renck is currently helming “Chernobyl,” the much-anticipated HBO miniseries featuring Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård and Emily Watson. Renck worked closely with David Bowie before his death and directed both the videos for “Blackstar” and “Lazarus.” His previous music videos include artists such as Beyoncé, Madonna, Lana Del Ray, New Order and Kylie Minogue, among others. Renck’s commercials currently include a long-standing partnership with Chanel, Paco Rabanne, Jean Paul Gaultier, Cartier and Calvin Klein, to name a few.

ABOUT ES DEVLIN

Artist and stage designer Es Devlin OBE has made stage sculptures in collaboration with U2, Beyoncé, Kanye West, The Weeknd and Adele as well as stage designs for The Met Opera, The Royal Opera House and La Scala. She has created solo art installations at Miami Art Basel and V&A Museum, London and designed the London Olympic Closing Ceremony. Most recent work includes a huge sculptural portrait of The Weeknd for his recent Coachella performance and a large scale projection mapped ovoid model of Manhattan now showing at the new XI Gallery in Chelsea.

Devlin was the designer for Adele’s 2015 “Live in New York City” special on NBC and was profiled in the first season of the Netflix docu-series “Abstract: The Art of Design.”

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