John Seven | Viewer's Discretion: Swedish family saga worth watching

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The Restaurant (Sundance)

This new addition to the pantheon of dysfunctional Scandinavian family nightmares, "The Restaurant" ("Var tid ar nu, also known as "Our Time is Now") distinguishes itself by making its starting-point post-war Stockholm and taking occasional leaps in time to chart the progress of not only the Lowanders and their posh restaurant, but of Sweden's social progress, and transform all that into fun dramatics.

Starting at the end of World War II, the family-owned restaurant has managed to weather hard times under the stewardship of eldest Lowander son Gustaf (Mattias Nordkvist), sometimes through illegal but necessary means, while mother Helga (Suzanne Reuter) oversees and younger sister Nina (Hedda Stiernstedt) is content as a gadabout. But the walls about to close in on Gustaf as his war hero brother Peter (Adam Lundgren) is returning to pursue a law career. That's not the way it goes, though, and Gustaf finds himself battling Peter for his position at the restaurant, contending with Nina's desire to open a music club within the restaurant, trying to sweep illegal activities under the rug and attempting to keep his own homosexuality a secret.

The point is that with war behind them, times are changing, and the restaurant itself needs to be ahead of the times, and the two seasons that follow represent a tug-of-war over more than a decade to meet the demands of the change, as told through the often vicious battles between the Lowander siblings, but also members of the restaurant staff. Most notable in the story is Calle (Charlie Gustafsson) a kitchen worker who strikes Nina's fancy and affection, and the anchor for much of the staff drama.

But the standout character is Maggan (Josefin Nelden), who personifies the march of modernity. A country girl and single mother who works as a waitress, her progress into the world of politics is charted and beautifully-portrayed, as well as her same-sex relationships and the way she must remain closeted. Amidst the delicious melodrama and fascinating deep dives into Swedish culture, Nelden's down-to-earth performance as Maggan is something American watchers they can grab onto with affection.

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The show embraces the occasional leap in time to keep the drama moving and that's appreciated. It allows characters to take huge leaps in evolution, keeping things interesting and avoiding becoming bogged down in minor episodic tangents that plague so many series.

Elvis: Strung Out (Mubi)

If you're not careful, you might mistake this short film for a real music video. Made available by Mubi through the month of July as part of its series of presentations that won prizes in the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, "Elvis: Strung Out," consists of re-edited footage from the 1970 concert film "Elvis: That's The Way It Is." Director Mark Oliver brings that together with a spoken rant from Presley about the overreach of the press in his life, especially in regard to drug rumors, with a pulsing, slow-beat piece of music to create something new.

The footage itself focuses on some of Presley's more bizarre stage moments that might get lost in the girth of performance but here, highlighted, ends up punctuating the sentences coming out of his mouth. Oliver intersperses these with quick takes of an audience enraptured and dance highlights from Elvis himself that takes advantage of the almost unhinged and out-of-control contortions his body makes as his voice addresses rumors of being "strung out." On one hand, he comes off as a major denier of his own reality, but on the other, the combination of these elements creates an Elvis that even in the late-stage, downward spiral of his career becomes dynamically dangerous and even sexy. As Taylor reclaims that Elvis for the rest of us, his brief work of film-collage becomes a must-see.

John Seven is a writer in North Adams who has never been satisfied by movies and television that are easy to come by. He likes to do some digging. Find him online at johnseven.me.


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