“Welcome to Sweden:” Oj, oj, oj…that was really embarrassing!

“Oj, oj, oj,” as the Swedes say…oh, boy! That was embarrassing. No, it was more than embarrassing, it was really, really bad.

I am talking about the new TV-series “Welcome to Sweden” that premiered last night on NBC. I knew nothing about it beforehand, and I didn’t know that it had been produced by Swedish television channel TV4, and then bought by NBC.  Shame on TV4 for taking the easy way out and playing on all the clichés about Sweden and Swedes: stupid accents, drunkenness and drinking songs, naked men in the sauna.

It was all supposed to be funny, and intelligently joking about nations and people and their traditions is certainly fair game, and can be funny. But “Welcome to Sweden” was not funny, not at all. I suppose it could have been if the acting had been good. But it was atrocious, and it was especially sad to see splendid actress Lena Olin lending herself to this superficial spectacle,  which, on top of everything, was brutally interrupted time and time again by commercials during its 30 minutes.

I haven’t read any reviews by the Swedish media when it premiered there in March. Maybe they liked it, and maybe I have missed something? No, come to think of it, I don’t think I have. I just hope that the coming segments will prove to be better than this disastrous start.

“Fruitvale Station” — don’t miss this film!

I saw the movie “Fruitvale Station” tonight, about the tragic fate of Oscar Grant, shot down by a policeman for nothing at a BART Station in Oakland, California on New Year January 1, 2009.

The new film, a debut by 27-year-old Ryan Coogler, has been lauded by the critics after having won the big prize at the Sundance Film Festival earlier in the year. It’s easy to draw a parallel between Grant, played by Michael B. Jordan — “Wallace” to every fan of “The Wire” — and Trayvon Martin, both young black men, almost boys, and both killed for no reason by white men.

It’s a superb and sad drama that happens to be a true story about America. Don’t miss it!

Fear mongering at its worst in anti-Obama movie

I went to see the much talked about movie “2016: Obama’s America” today, and after watching this ideologically driven, false, alarmist portrait of Barack Obama, I wonder in what world its creator Dinesh D’Souza lives. I don’t recognize it.

D’Souza is called a leading conservative intellectual, and I have no doubt that he is smart, but he is primarily dishonest. Born in the same year as Obama, an immigrant from India, exposed to colonialism under the British, Ivy League graduate, it’s remarkable how differently D’Souza and Obama turned out and I wonder what drove D’Souza to the far right.

You really don’t know Obama, says D’Souza. He is anti-capitalist, socialist, yes, anti-American. The thrust of the movie is to prove D’Souza’s theory that Obama’s dream is not the same as the American dream, and that by 2016, if Obama is re-elected, we will see what Obama’s real goal is — to fulfill his dead Kenyan father’s unfulfilled, Third World, anti-colonial dreams and create a different, a socialist, America. So watch out!

It’s cleverly made, but it’s fear mongering at its worst.

“Detropia” — a film about a city in tragic decline

“Capitalism is a great system, I love it, but it exploits the weak”, says one of the main characters in the stunning documentary “Detropia” currently playing at the premier documentary film festival “Silverdocs” in Silver Spring, Maryland, just outside Washington, DC.

The film, about the impact on an entire city and its inhabitants of the brutal side of American capitalism, is the grim tale of the decline of Detroit, from a glamorous city with nearly 2 million inhabitants and a thriving automotive industry, to a city in tragic decline that has lost over half its population and with a higher percentage of poor people than any other American city.

Made by young documentary filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, the film is currently shown in packed theaters at the festival on the premises of the American Film Institute. Their film creates the same heartbreaking impressions as the two young French photographers Yves Marchand’s and Romain Meffres’ book “The Ruins of Detroit”, which I wrote about last year.

And the conclusion is also the same: how could America let this happen?

One of the best songs, ever…

When I think of Levon Helm, who died yesterday of cancer at the age of 71, I think of the song “The Weight” with him and The Band plus the Staple Singers at “The Last Waltz” concert in the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco 1976.

A long time ago, but unforgettable.

A future without the New York Times?

I went to the movies and saw “Page One: Inside the New York Times,” which premiered here in Washington yesterday.

For a former newspaperman, I must say it doesn’t get any better than this.

Andrew Rossi’s excellent documentary about the state of journalism — newspapers, the Internet, television — told through the New York Times, and, in particular, through its quirky media columnist David Carr, is , of course, a must see for everyone interested in the welfare of America today.

Never nostalgic, it is a sad movie for all of us who love newspapers. The state of journalism and its uncertain future includes the scenario where even a newspaper like the New York Times does not survive. Imagine…what has the world come to?

New secret film could mean Sarah Palin is running

A new documentary film about Sarah Palin, filmed in great secrecy by a conservative filmmaker, will premiere in June and looks like the start of a future presidential campaign by the former Republican Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate 2008.

The film’s existence is revealed by Scott Conroy at RealClearPolitics, a leading political news site, whose report tonight describes at length the content of the two-hour film, “The Undefeated”.

The film will likely premiere in Iowa where the first primary election battle takes place in January next year. The film will then be shown in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, all primary states.

“This film is a call to action for a campaign like 1976: Reagan vs. the establishment,” said filmmaker Stephen K. Bannon to RealClearPolitics. “Let’s have a good old-fashioned brouhaha.”

The film portrays Palin as “the only conservative leader who can both build on the legacy of the Reagan Revolution and bring the ideals of the tea party movement to the Oval Office.”

If the film means the start of a Palin presidential election campaign, it would mean a drastically new situation for the Republican party, which is right now dominated by confusion and lack of enthusiasm for any of the present candidates after four possible candidates decided not to run.

And for those who are still thinking about running, like former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, a Palin candidacy might make them decide not to run. For although Palin is controversial and polarizing, even within her own party, she is by far the best known of all the Republican candidates, with strong support from the Tea Party movement, and she would likely be very had to beat.

Redford’s film on the Lincoln murder fails to convince

Today, on the 146th anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, Robert Redford’s new film “The Conspirator” about the trial of the widow, Mary Surratt, and the others conspiring to kill Lincoln, opened here in Washington.

Mary Surratt, convincingly played by Robin Wright, was sentenced to death by a military tribunal for having participated in the conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln, and she was hanged as the first woman in U.S. history. But was she guilty?

The film provides no clear answer to that, but it sows doubts after a politically-driven military tribunal with obvious parallels to today’s America and the upcoming military trials of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo. The main issue in the film thus becomes: how does the rule of law function in time of war? Poor, is the film’s response to the year 1865, and the implied answer to what is happening today, after Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, the film is strangely silent on the four-year long Civil War and its causes. Not a word about slavery. So in some strange way, the North and those who fought for the Union, become the culprits, while the South and the conspirators against Lincoln are the martyrs, fighting and dying for a cause.

The film and its story are never convincing to me. It never grabs hold of me and shakes me. It is somehow unemotional where there should have been so much emotion and drama. With the exception of Robin Wright, the other roles are fairly uninteresting, James McAvoy as a defense lawyer, Kevin Kline as the Secretary of War, and Tom Wilkinson as a powerful attorney.

No, “The Conspirator” was unfortunately not a great movie experience.

Delightful evening about legend Ethel Waters

The other night I had a delightful, and surprising, theater experience in Alexandra, Virginia, one of Washington’s close suburbs. It was at Metro Stage, another sign of Greater Washington’s steadily growing theater scene.  Much of this growth is taking place in the suburbs, like in the mall near my home, where you can find Silver Spring Stage.

At Metro Stage on Sunday, I saw “His Eye is on the Sparrow” by Larry Parr. It is a play, a musical, about the African-American singer Ethel Waters, a legend for her groundbreaking singing career, which included blues, musicals on Broadway, movies in Hollywood, an Oscar nomination, and election to the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Ethel Waters was born in 1900 in Chester, Pennsylvania as a result of her then 13-year-old mother being raped, and she died in 1977 in California. She had a rough life but also one filled with great success. She sang with all the major music legends of the time, such as Count Basie and Duke Ellington. Her accompanist on piano was for many years Fletcher Henderson, the big band leader. Her most famous recordings include “Am I Blue?”, “Stormy Weather” and “Dinah,” and especially the spiritual from 1912, “His Eye is on the Sparrow”, which is also became the title of her memoirs.

The play is a story of her life and her singing career, which began in Baltimore, Maryland. She eventually moved to Harlem in New York, appeared at the famous Cotton Club and became a part of the Harlem renaissance of the 1920s. She became one of the first African-American singers ever to be recorded. That was in 1921. In 1933, she became the first black member of an all-white ensemble on Broadway in the musical “As Thousands Cheer.”  In 1949, she was nominated for an Oscar for her role in the film “Pinky”.   At the end of her career, she often participated in Billy Graham’s crusades where she sang “His Eye is on the Sparrow”.

At Metro Stage, Ethel Waters was played by the Atlanta singer and actress Bernardine Mitchell, and she was absolutely brilliant, accompanied sensitively on piano by William Knowles. In all, it was a wonderful theater and music evening.