As it is in Heaven: Get Your Razor Blades Ready

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You know that phrase, some things are not greater than the sum of their parts? I think that best describes the Swedish 2005 film As it is in Heaven.

This film directed by Kay Pollak is the story of Daniel Daréus (Michael Nyqvist), an extremely famous musician and conductor who one night during a performance collapses on stage of a heart attack. Daniel’s doctor tells him he’s dying, so Daniel decides it’s time for a change and he moves to his small hometown village and gets a job conducting the church choir only after becoming besotted by a robust blonde (Frida Hallgren) who has no qualms taking off her clothes. Well, it is Sweden, so no surprises there. And then Daniel uses his drapes to make his choir play clothes and they all go skipping in the Austrian mountains with Julie Andrews.

What’s interesting about this movie is that there are some very good elements. The stunning score comes to mind. The story is also made up of some powerful messages and very powerful characters. However, when you put it all together, this film in my opinion doesn’t really work. The first 30 minutes of the film is just about Daniel trying to get his life back. Got it. Then when he becomes the director of the church choir suddenly the movie becomes about sexual empowerment, feminine empowerment, and anti-bullying. What? All important ideas to be sure but it all comes out of nowhere. The beginning does not set these issues up at all.

The first half of the movie seems like a light, fun, enjoyable party. The last half is full of wrist cutting angst. Every major character gets to have their Oscar shot wailing like a fish because their husband is beating them and a friend has been calling them fat for years. I have no issue with dramatic movies. I actually tend to prefer them. However, when someone is crying every twenty minutes, it tends to get, well, kind of funny. I know how horrible that makes me sound (queue dead baby jokes), but let me try to explain. When an actor cries, usually it is a very emotional moment on film. So if everyone is crying all the time, it kills the power. Its like highlighting an entire page of text. It achieves nothing.

I give this movie points for ambition, but I think it just attempted too much. If it had stuck with a couple of issues and dealt with them the entire film rather than whipping them out at an arbitrary moment, the movie would have been much improved. I also think you could easily take at least 45 minutes out of this movie and no one would miss it.

But one of the biggest issues, this movie totally stole iconic images from other famous films. In the very beginning of the film, a young Daniel is playing a violin in a wheat field. Remind anyone of the opening of August Rush who was conducting in a wheat field? Even more convincing, at the very end of the movie, when Daniel dies, you suddenly see him walking through a wheat field running his hands through the grain. That is directly straight out of Gladiator’s ending. Shame on you Pollack for daring to steal from two movies that are much better than yours!

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I will admit though that I have a new goal of finding a Swedish boyfriend. Because somehow, hearing the words “I love you” in Swedish was just about the sexiest thing ever. So if any Swedish guys come across this blog and want to give me their numbers… Just kidding. Kind of.

For trying a lot but not quite pulling it off, I give As it is in Heaven a 4.

Beat the Drum

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In celebration of the end of classes for this semester, I decided to watch a movie. The movie I chose, Beat the Drum, was about the problem of AIDS in Africa. Quite a way to celebrate. Reminds me of the time I was upset one day and thought reading Sylvia Plath poems would make me feel better. Yeah, did not work out.

Anyway, Beat the Drum, a South African film released in 2003 and directed by David Hickson, despite being quite depressing (how do you make a happy movie about AIDS?) is nonetheless very beautiful, though a little heavy handed, although I recognize that most movies with a specific social agenda are. This movie had a very successful reception, winning many accolades.

In this film, Musa, (Junior Singo) a young boy whose family has died of AIDS decides to go to Johannesburg for work and to find his uncle. Musa ends up meeting people who are being affected by AIDS in different ways. Ti (Nolunthando Maleka) is an orphan girl on the streets trying to protect her virginity. Nobe (Owen Sejake) doesn’t want to acknowledge the danger of AIDS, even at the risk of exposing it to his family. And Stefan, a lawyer in a prominent family, discovers he is infected and decides to make the most of the rest of his life by helping the creation of an orphanage.

One of the things I like most about this movie is the verbal irony of the title. It refers to the drum Musa’s father gives to him before he dies, and tells him to play it when he becomes happy. It also refers to the message of the film: not staying silent. Creating awareness. After the death of his sister, Nobe finally realizes just what a problem ignoring AIDS is. He grabs a drum and starts banging it in town to start a meeting and tells his community that rather than shunning people with AIDS, everyone needs to come together in compassion and work to prevent more spread of the disease. Which I believe is the major point of the film. The director is essentially challenging the audience to pull out their drum and bang it, so to speak. It’s a very powerful message, considering just how may people HIV and AIDS effects, not just in Africa, but all over the world.

Another great thing about this movie is that while there are parts that will make you cry, it doesn’t make the AIDS problem seem hopeless. In fact, by the end, you feel quite up lifted. It exudes a great message of hope, that this is something we can change.

So, for creating a very important message about a very important issue, I give Beat the Drum an 8.