Murder on the Orient Express

Yes, I know. This is not a new film. "Murder on the Orient Express" was released in 1974, over 40 years ago. And they already had color movies way back then, imagine that! What a star-studded cast was assembled for the filming of an Agathe Christie novel! I had devoured all the Hercule Poirot books as a girl, but I don't remember ever having seen the movie. Lauren Bacall as Mrs. Hubbard, just perfect! Ingrid Bergman playing the mousey Greta to such perfection that she won an Oscar for it.

Even though about halfway through I remembered enough of the book to know "who done it", it was still suspense-packed until the end. That scene (lasting almost 28 minutes, IMDB tells us, and because of technical difficulties had to be shot numerous times) in which Poirot lays out two possible explanations for the death of Mr. Ratchett, is truly the best of the entire film.

So don't just see newer films - the old classics are really something to enjoy. 


The Imitation Game

The English film "The Imitation Game" about Alan Turing was released this week in Germany, so we picked up the film in English at Odeon with some mathematically inclined friends. The theater was well-filled, a good sign, as I like having a movie theater close by that shows English-language original films. And has SALTED buttered popcorn.

A review on the radio was positively gushing about the film, while the Wikipedia article in English has a long section about various controversies, the short German Wikipedia article is completely dominated by criticism. Turing is portrayed as a traitor for not exposing a spy! He never worked with the guy! He wasn't that close to June Clarke!  The maths are wrong! There's an error in the machine! He was arrested in 1952, not 1951! Etc. etc.

Just ignore all this. It's not supposed to be a documentary and they only have two hours to tell the story so that people can sort of begin to understand what drives some people to spend hours and hours pouring over mathematical formulas and computing machinery. And that some of these people have issues understanding social cues and relating to people. They're odd ones. Maybe he was an Aspie and maybe he wasn't, it is still a wonderful film.

The actor Benedict Cumberbatch gives quite some insight into what it might have been like to be Alan Turing, to have had this mad idea of building a machine to break codes, and to have had his contribution to ending the war kept secret. His homosexuality, gently woven throughout the film, which caused the country he saved to put him on trial and have him chemically castrated, is well-treated. It's not in-your-face and it's not something mentioned off-hand. It is part of him, full stop. And it is a disgrace to England that it took until 2013 for Queen Elizabeth to pardon him.

The last few minutes of the film flash cards noting how the story plays out. They call Turing's death a suicide, although there are any number of alternative ideas from inhaling fumes from his chemical experiments to GCHQ having their hand in it. From what we have heard from Edward Snowden the past year and a half, that is actually starting to make a lot of sense. Turing understood the art of cryptography and cryptanalysis, the GCHQ doesn't want a lot of that going around.

Anyway: a film that makes people think about how gays are treated, about how deadly secrets are kept in a war, and about math being important gets a thumbs up from me. I shall recommend it to my students. And I suggest reading Andrew Hodges' book "Alan Turing: The Enigma" as well as Turing's publications. Oh, and learn cryptography while you are at it.



Traditionally, we see a movie in Lund or Malmö or Ystad with a friend between Christmas and New Year's. We've seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy together, and the first two Hobbit films. So with the release of the last Hobbit film, we should have been seeing that. But the reviews were so clear that this was a CWOT (complete waste of time), that we chose a film based on when we could all be in Lund. The children's films, dubbed in Swedish, were out. The local independent theater, Kino, was showing the film PRIDE, so we went there. And I'm very glad we did.

It's 1984 and the coal miners are on strike in the UK. A group of lesbian and gay activists decide to support the coal miners against the common enemies of the thugs, the police and Maggy Thatcher. They choose a place in South Wales, Onllwyn, and start collecting money. There are many problems to be dealt with on both sides, but eventually because of some very resolute people, they become friends. I can't tell more, or I will spoil the story, but fascinatingly enough, this is based on a true story.

The story is about solidarity - one group helping another, and them returning the favor. It is movingly told, and as one reviewer has said, it is not just a good indie LGBT film: It is a good film full stop. I was moved to tears as the wife of a miner began singing "Bread and Roses" (one of my favorite union songs) and is soon joined not only by the rest of the women in the room, but also by some of the men. There are many small, intertwined stories told in the movie, and there are many moments when you just have to laugh. It is fascinating to see how characters such as Siân James develops, who in real life went on to be the member of Parliament for Swansea East.

Interestingly, the film is free for children from the age of 7 in Sweden, but is rated R (under 17 only accompanied by an adult) in the US. Are they afraid of the representation of homosexuals as normal people, or of the political activism? There are no sex scenes, just a dildo, a gay magazine, and some topless guys. And a cuss word or three, I suppose.

As we spoke about after the movie - the solidarity that was in the air from the late 60s to the early 80s has somehow disappeared. When we went to university, there were many activist groups and much solidarity between the various groups. Now, it's more or less the me-generation looking after its own best interests, and the right-wingers doing some rabble-rousing, violence, and arson. How can the solidarity be regained? We have no answers, but an imperative: Go see this film. It is worth it.


Det som ingen ved

Sick of the TV-tinsel-Christmas and with WiseKid and WiseGrandkid not coming until tomorrow, we opted for a film before the midnight service on Christmas Eve. We settled on the Danish filmmaker Det som ingen ved (German: Was niemand weiß, English: What no one knows). The subtitle is "Vem kan du egentligen lita på?" (Whom can you trust?) It doesn't appear to have been shown in the States, probably put on a blacklist by the NSA.

I remember seeing it about 5 years ago (make that 2008) at the Nordic Film Festival, but I didn't remember the plot. Scenes began reappearing in my mind, and I remember some of the things I thought while watching the movie. "There's no one watching all those surveillance videos, they are just there to scare off thieves." "There can't be such a secret organization that knows how to kill people and is willing and able to do so just to keep their group secret." "The Danish government would never work hand in hand with the CIA like that."

Post-Snowden: It's worse than this. This film is sugar-coated, rose-colored glasses, just hinting at what we now know to be true. Truly amazing that the Danish Department of Defense (Forsvarskommandoen) let them film on location.

Yes, there are loose ends here and there: Thomas keeps coming up with cars that shouldn't be there, maps to hidden cabins appear by magic, Stockholm is just a short drive from Malmö. But still, the film should be revived, if only to make you ask some questions: What are all these cameras for? Why are they watching us? What is it, that they don't want us to know?


Summer readings

It seems that my usual blogging time has been taken up with WiseGrandkid, which is fine by me. She's 15 months old now, and I've been able to babysit a few times. She misses her mother then terribly, but when we girls go shopping together, she quiets down. So shopping we go, I've managed to finally get myself some new shoes and stocked up on drug store items. It's amazing how young they are able to identify brands. There is this sugary yoghurt called Fruchtzwerge that comes in colorful little pots. While grocery shopping this week she pointed to them in the dairy section, then looked at me with those eyes I know only too well from WiseKid, and so Grandma puts a six-pack in the grocery cart. And WiseGrandkid actually ate one when we got home.

Over the summer I did get some reading done, so instead of long reviews, here's the list with a brief description:

  • Kazuo Ishiguro: The Remains of the Day
    This book won the Booker Prize in 1989 (which only shows how long it takes me to get around to reading things). It is a description of the life of an English butler, Stevens, who spends his life serving others. In 1956 he finally takes a holiday, and we are treated to descriptions of the English countryside as well as peeping into his past and all that he has seen, but never spoken of. He has never had time for himself, being in service 24/7 at Darlington Hall. I suppose I should take heed of this and spend more time doing things for myself and not end up like Stevens, only working for others.
  • Jörg Maurer: Felsenfest: AlpenkrimiI usually prefer Scandinavian Krimis, crime thrillers. But Jörg Maurer is really good, he has such whimsical characters and such fast-paced, crazy stories that take place in the Alps that just might be true. A great summer read.
  • Robert M. Sonntag: Die Scanner
    This is a story for young people, although I'm afraid teenagers today don't read, so we'll have to wait for it to be available on YouTube. It's about a society not too far in the future in which there are no books any longer. They have all been scanned and the paper burned. There are people who comb the city, looking for books that have been left over, in order to scan them in. And of course there are the hold-outs who hoards books and hide them and refuse to turn them over to the scanners. Then one day, there is a "computer problem", and all the books of the past are gone. No matter, who reads books anymore, anyway? It is a plausible dystopia, but I'm afraid that teenagers don't understand the value of keeping "old stuff" around.
That's it for now, at least I can now put these books into my bookshelves. And no, I'm not scanning them in. I like to have words printed on paper, they don't change or disappear.


A Most Wanted Man

Philip Seymour Hoffman's last film, A Most Wanted Man, was showing in the original language at the local artsy theater, so we found an evening to go watch it.

How bizarre to be watching a movie clearly playing in Germany, with American actors speaking American English and German actors speaking English with a German accent and a Canadian actress (Rachel McAdams) speaking English with a German accent. And the film had German subtitles, that you actually needed when the characters were speaking Arabic.

What a chilling story (by John le Carré), most especially after I heard a lecture today on the German data privacy laws as they affect personal privacy rights and how the NSA and the German authorities are actually breaking German constitutional law. This film pitted at least three spy organizations against each other (Verfassungsschutz, CIA, and some third, unnamed entity), and they all are breaking personal privacy rights right and left. But of course, the long-term goal is to make the world a "safer" place, right? Take care of those pesky terrorists.... And as we now know, this is actually not fiction, but happening, all around us. We are paying for their fun & games, and strangely, with a sense of Stockholm Syndrome (as Jochen Koubeck put it in the talk this morning) are even sympathizing with the NSA & Co. listening in on all we are doing.

As WiseMan remarked after the film, if Philip Seymour Hoffman's character would have seen Robin Wright in House of Cards, he would have known that he can't trust her. Spy movies are not normally my cup of tea, but this was great, Hoffman was just such a great actor. The only boring part was the full half an hour of silly advertising and trailers for films I most certainly will not see, and that with the film not starting until 8.30 pm. Oh well, lucky me, I don't have to get up too early tomorrow.



We went to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, north of Copenhagen, today, as it was opening day for Ólafur Elíasson's Riverbed exhibition. The papers had said that this exhibition literally turned Louisiana inside out, which of course is one of his major themes.

Inside-out indeed.

We were given a map at the model room, and after lunch in the cafeteria with the breathtaking view we tried to get to the Riverbed. We first thought it was outside, but there was just a tent there for the literature days. The doors we normally use to get into that wing of the museum were strangely locked. So we went back to the gift shop to enter what is normally the wrong way.

You walk down a wooden pathway, the walls painted a spotless white (okay, it's opening day), with people coming towards you. Then you step out into a large room, painted white, with a lot of rocks in it. And - natch - a river running through it.

 A river running through the sacred, polished wood halls of Louisiana! And the river bed is not just any bunch of stones scraped together. These are lava stones, carted over from Iceland.

Tons and tons of stones!  The guard said the workers had been carting the stones in for six weeks, wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow. And that they put down some heavy-duty plastic before the stones started being brought in. The rooms that normally partition off portions of an artists life or themes the artist dealt with have doors, some low, some wide, that drive upwards, ever upwards towards this waterfall:

There are steps up over the waterfall, and then more lava in more rooms, until you finally get to the source (there are two): 

Another few steps up and you are in the library, a breathtakingly beautiful room overlooking the Öresund. I normally like to go sit in the library when I am at Louisiana, as it is usually deserted and I can enjoy the quiet and the view. The library is now a dead-end, so it is filled with people flipping through books about the artist and his works. A man, end of 40, comes in at one point, looks around, smiles, leaves.

I always assumed that Ólafur was an oldish guy, because he has done so many (crazy) things. Looking at his picture online I wonder if the man I saw was the artist on opening day, seeing how people react to his monumental work.

The exhibition is on until January 2015: If you are near Copenhagen, this is a must-see!