Monday, April 29, 2013

Z is for Zack and Miri Make A Porno


 And here we are... at Z!  I can't believe I've made it through all 26 letters.  And it wasn't even that hard (if you don't count the little bobble I had at X...)

ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO

USA, 2008
Running Length: 101 minutes
Cast: Elizabeth Banks, Seth Rogen, Craig Robinson, Jason Mewes, Brandon Routh, Traci Lords, Katie Morgan
Director:  Kevin Smith
Screenplay: Kevin Smith
Cinematography: David Klein

When this film was released it caused quite a stir.  Some cinemas refused to advertise it because of the word ‘porno’ in the title; some cinemas refused to screen it, thinking it was an attempt to slide something smutty onto otherwise pristine screens.  Which is stupid, because despite the title, very little sex is ever shown on screen.

Zack and Miri are roommates and they’re broke.  After a video a friend makes of them goes viral in the Netherlands, they decide to try and make a little cash from their fifteen minutes of fame and make a porno flick.  If it’s successful, they might be able to did themselves out of the financial hole they’re in.  Or at least get the power turned back on.

They recruit a few friends to help them out, and get to work.  But before they can shoot anything, the pair have to get over the fact they’re actually going to have to have sex.  Up until now, their friendship has been purely platonic and they’re both nervous that sex will screw that up.  Although of course, coming from the pen of Kevin Smith, there are far more swear words used in the conveying of this sentiment.

In fact, this has to be one the most cuss-heavy films I’ve ever seen.  I doubt many sentences get through without at least one off color word.  Which isn’t something that bothers me, and frankly, anyone who would be bothered by it probably wouldn’t go to see a film with this title.  So it’s really not worth commenting on.  But there we are…

Kevin Smith is a great writer and, even harder, a great comedy writer.  This film sails along at a great pace, with laughs scattered liberally along the way.  Elizabeth Banks and Seth Rogen are affable leads and you find yourself really rooting for their plan to work out.  In most comedies, you’re lucky if half the jokes hit the mark, but in this one, the percentage is way higher.

Which is why the final third feels like something of a letdown.  It’s the part where the romantic part of the romantic comedy comes into play, and it doesn’t entirely work.  It’s nice that Zack and Miri realize that they’ve been in love all along, but it’s such a predictable ending that it almost feels like cheating.  But given how much riotous entertainment has come before it, we’ll forgive Mr. Smith.  This time.


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Y is for You Will Be My Son


YOU WILL BE MY SON
France, 2011
Running Time: 102 minutes
Cast: Niels Arestrup, Lorant Deutsch, Patrick Chesnais, Anne Marvin, Nicolas Bridet
Director: Gilles Legrand
Screenplay: Gilles Legrand & Delphine Le Vigan
Cinematography:  Yves Angelo

The complex relationships between fathers and sons have been explored on screen since the dawn of cinema.  Here the family drama plays out amidst the gorgeous backdrop of Bordeaux vineyards.

Paul is the successful vineyard owner, an imposing man whose life is dedicated to producing the perfect wine.  So when Francois, the long-serving estate manager falls ill, Paul needs to find an able successor.

Martin, Paul’s son, steps up, wanting the position and to finally gain his father’s approval and respect.  But Paul refuses to even consider him.  He has no confidence in Martin’s abilities and dislikes him for his perceived failings.  He calls in Francois’ son, Phillippe, a winemaker who has been working in California and offers him the job.  He even offers to adopt him.

And so the stage is set for a battle between fathers and sons, each with their own goals for the vineyard, their lives, and the wine they make.

Niels Arestrup is revelatory as the estate owner.  A character this mean could easily descend into caricature, but Arestrup is too good an actor to fall into that trap.  His Paul is a complex creation whose motivations, even when we disagree with his actions, are clear.

The scenery is glorious and the script so well researched that the daily running of the estate oozes veracity.  And it is this attention to detail that sets this film a step above other films that have explored similar subject matter.

I found myself profoundly moved by this film.  So much that it hung over me for several hours after leaving it.  It’s a film that opens the mind to many questions about loyalty, family and the boundaries between them, especially when a business is involved – a business that provides the family’s livelihood.  

Saturday, April 27, 2013

X is for X-Men

Yes.  X is for X-Men.  But I haven't seen X-Men.  So I can't write a review of it.

I struggled for an X movie.  I thought about doing Malcolm X, but it felt like cheating.  So did choosing something like The Exorcist.  They have Xs in them, but they don't actually begin with X.

I know I showed a Brazilian film in a festival here two years ago that began with X, but I can't for the life of me remember what it was....

So I guess I've failed to live up to my promise of reviewing films from A - Z.  But I'm still posting something for all 26 days of the challenge and the alphabet, so I guess I'm still on track.

Can anyone think of a film starting with X that's not X-Men?

Friday, April 26, 2013

W is for Weekend



WEEKEND

UK, 2011
Running Length: 97 minutes
Cast: Tom Cullen, Chris New, Laura Freeman, Vauxhall Jermaine
Director:  Andrew Haigh
Screenplay: Andrew Haigh
Cinematography: Urzula Pontikos


Weekend is a rare thing: a movie romance that feels like a real life romance, with all the awkwardness and weirdness left intact.  Russell is out, but doesn’t like to talk about it with his largely straight friends.  After an evening with them, he heads to a club and eventually goes home with the object of his desire.

The morning after could have played out the same way most of these awkward one night stand mornings do, but when Glen whips out a voice recorder, and asks Russell to recount the evening in his own words, things skew into new territory.  Ostensibly an art project, the dialogue kick starts a long, free form conversation that grows increasingly intimate as the pair exchanger personal information, come-ons and ideas.

When Glen announces he’s moving to the US the next day, it creates an urgency as the pair struggle to fit an entire relationship into a weekend.

A little like Before Sunrise, this film manages to capture the organic nature of love developing, and the place sex has within that development.  The characters are well drawn and flawlessly performed by the two leads.  Both men are presented as flawed individuals with boundaries they will not cross.  Things get interesting as they get close to these self-imposed limits, and how each deals with them, is a joy to behold.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

V is for Viva Riva!


VIVA RIVA

Democratic Republic of The Congo, 2010
Running Length: 98 minutes
Cast: Patsha Bay,  Manie Malone, Diplome Amekindra
Director:  Djo Munga
Screenplay: Djo Munga
Cinematography: Antoine Roch

On the surface, this is a familiar story: an entrepreneur in a corrupt country manages to gain control of something everybody wants and finds himself running for his life.  One cannot picture a more corrupt landscape than The Congo and the country becomes a character in its own right in this film.

Riva is a small-time crook.  He manages to steal a truckload of gas from Angola and brings it to Kinshasa to sell.  With gas in short supply, he decides to hold out until the city’s reserves are drained completely so he can sell his for the highest possible price.  Of course, the man who he stole the gas from isn’t going to sit back and watch his money drain into someone else’s pocket.  Also on Riva’s tail is the gangster who controls Kinshasa.  When Riva becomes infatuated with a gorgeous red-haired woman, it comes as no surprise she is this gangster’s moll.

Yes, these characters are stereotypes.  Interestingly, Riva isn’t.  Rather than being a savvy schemer, he’s a roguish fun-lover whose greatest asset is a bottomless well of luck.  He manages on several occasions to elude pursuers by leaving a room fractions of a second before they arrive.  Some moments come across as being almost slapstick in their careful orchestration, but these breaths of fresh air are needed to cut through the sadistic violence and brutal sex that characterizes much of the film.

This is a violent film.  Very violent.  And when the violence is against women, it is almost too hideous to watch.  But The Congo has the highest incidence of rape in any country in the world, so I have to assume that this depiction is an accurate reflection of the society.  And it's horrific.

Brutal, fast paced and often discomforting, this film is not without its flaws, but it manages to be a thrilling ride nonetheless.  Picture a film by Tony Scott, set in the Congo.  This is that film.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

U is for Up The Yangtzee


UP THE YANGTZEE

Canada 2007
Running Length: 100 minutes
Cast: Cindy Yu Shui, Jerry Chen Bo Yu
Director:  Yung Chang
Cinematography: Wang Shi Qing


One of the undisputed and deserved hits of the recent International Film Festival, Up The Yangtzee is an outstanding documentary observing life on the soon-to-be flooded banks of the Yangtzee River.  With the landscape about to be changed dramatically by the biggest hydroelectric dam in history, we join a group of people on a farewell cruise down the river and meet some of the two million people who will be most affected by the floods.  Relocation is not always assisted and many people are being forced to fend for themselves after corrupt officials pocket money meant to help them.

On board the boat we meet two of the crew, young Chinese who have been given American names and taught to please foreigners.  “Cindy” tries her hardest, but middle-class “Jerry” needs to be reminded that conformity is considered a virtue in China.  These cruise ships offer work and opportunities to many young Chinese and there is nothing to take their place once the dam is built.

Side trips into the cities give another perspective on Chinese life.  One shopkeeper weeps for his country where just being an ordinary person has become too difficult amidst corrupt bureaucracy and relentless progress.  Director Yung Chang lets the subjects speak for themselves and avoids unnecessary commentary.  He is showing us something we have not seen before in an insightful and meaningful way.

T is for Toy Story 3


TOY STORY 3

USA, 2010
Running Length: 103 minutes
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles. John Ratzenberger
Director:  Lee Unkrich
Screenplay: John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton

This is quite possibly the best film of the year.  And yes, I know how that sounds.  Toy Story 3 takes place many years after we left our toy heroes at the end of Toy Story 2.  Andy, their owner, is grown up now, about to leave for college. The toys have been in the toy box for years without being played with.  Now that Andy is leaving, the best they can hope for is being stored in the attic until Andy has kids of his own.  The worst: being thrown out.

A third possibility doesn’t cross their mind, but is the one that comes to pass.  The toys are donated to a daycare center.  To begin with, this seems an idyllic place, the perfect new home for toys that have been neglected for years.  The daycare toys are led by a benevolent bear called Lotso, and in this haven, Barbie meets Ken for the first time and sparks fly.

But all is not as it seems in the daycare center.  Lotso turns out to be a ruthless tyrant who banishes new toys to the indignities of the toddler room.  Once again, our fearless heroes must find a way to escape and get back to Andy’s house. The adventures they have on the way are often hair-raising and with Lotso in pursuit, threats face them at every turn.

Touching, exciting and utterly truthful, this is the perfect culmination to a trilogy.  I had tears in my eyes on several occasions, and it is testament to both the animation and the voice talent that we are so emotionally engaged by these characters.  It is not just a film for kids.  Adults will enjoy it as much, if not more, than the children it is targeted at.

Don’t miss it. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

S is for Starbuck


STARBUCK

Canada 2011
Running Length: 103 minutes
Cast: Patrick Huard, Julie LeBreton, Antoine Bertrand
Director:  Ken Scott
Screenplay:  Ken Scott & Martin Petit
Cinematography: Pierre Gill



David Wozniak is an affable slacker who is employed by his father as a delivery driver for the family’s butchery. When he discovers that the sperm he donated as a younger man has been used to father 533 children, and that many of these children want to know who their father ‘Starbuck’ is, David’s life must change.

Initially unwilling to even contemplate the idea, David finds himself unable to ignore the manilla envelope of photgraphs and bios of the kids who want to meet him.  Soon he finds himself seeking out his children and helping them through crises.  There are some heartbreaking moments here, most notably when David visits his mentally handicapped son.

With the promise of a hefty paycheck should he win the legal battle to keep his identity secret, David manages to touch the lives of his children without revealing who he is.  When the story is published in the newspapers, the entire city starts speculating on who Starbuck might be, and everyone, including his family and his pregnant girlfriend has an opinon about the situation – most of them fairly derogeratory. 

Patrick Huard is a loveable lead and his affability carries the film along, even through a midsection that isn’t perfectly paced.  While absurd, the ending is ridiculously satisfying and you wil certainly leave the theatre with a smile on your face.

(note: I really struggled to decide on what film to do for S.  I kind of wanted to do Searching for Sugarman because it was awesome, and I wanted to do Scarlet Road because it inspired my new book - along with The Sessions, another good S choice - but I've already shared a review of Scarlet Road here.  But if you don't think Starbuck is for you, try one of these other S movies.  I can recommend all of them!)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

R is for Rabbit Hole


RABBIT HOLE

USA 2010
Running Time: 92 minutes
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest, Tammy Blanchard, Sandra Oh
Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Screenplay: David Lindsay-Abaire
Cinematography: Frank G. DeMarco

Everything about this film seems wrong at the outset.  The director is John Cameron Mitchell, the man behind the flamboyantly fabulous Hedwig and the Angry Inch.  The lead is Nicole Kidman, an actress whose iciness can only be beaten by Tilda Swinton.  It’s hard to even consider her as the grieving mother in this powerful film, yet somehow the very brittle coolness that turns me off her usually works. 

This is a woman shutting emotion out of her life.  Unlike most stories where the man is eager to move on, and the woman can’t let go, here the roles are reversed.  Aaron Eckhart’s husband is grieving and needy, but can’t get this through to a wife who has cut herself off from everything as a means of coping with her loss.  To try and make sense of it, she reaches out to the boy responsible for her son’s death.

I didn’t love this film.  It was so raw and real it felt voyeuristic to be watching it.  Yet its very rawness is what makes it work.  It’s no fun being thrust into the lives of these overwhelmingly sad individuals, especially when they seem incapable of change.  I won’t give away the ending, but let me just say, there is a spark of hope.  And if you can stop staring at the bizarre plastic surgery Nic appears to have had around her mouth, you will certainly find something to enjoy about this portrayal of the separation that comes with grief.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Q is for Quartet



QUARTET

UK, 2012
Running Length: 98 minutes
Cast: Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connelly, Pauline Collins, Michael Gambon, Andrew Sachs
Director:  Dustin Hoffman
Screenplay: Ronald Harwood
Cinematography: John de Borman

Set in a retirement home for aging musicians, Quartet features performances by stars from all areas of the performing arts.

Maggie Smith plays the diva, Jean, a former soprano known for her difficult temperament.  She arrives at the home unwillingly, much to the chagrin of her ex-husband who declares his desire for a dignified senility.  But with Jean’s arrival, just in time for the much-needed fundraising concert, the other three members of a vocal quartet realize she’s needed to complete the headlining act.

So much of the rest of the film revolves around trying to convince Jean to come out of retirement one last time, a perform to save the luxurious home the musicians have come to love.

The performances are good, but from actors of this calibre, you wouldn’t expect anything less.  But the script is predictable, and the setting so unrealistic it’s difficult to get past.  Anyone who has spent any time at all in a real old folks’ home will recognize the falsities of a home with this many residents, and only one real carer.  Especially with patients like Pauline Collins’ dementia sufferer.

Yet the wry humor is engaging, and the ending satisfying enough that you will leave the theatre with a smile on your face.  It’s really only on later reflection you realize how blatantly unrealistic the whole scenario is.

And seeing so many of Britain’s greats of stage and screen in one production is probably worth the admission price on its own.  It’s just a shame the film is so lacking in substance.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

P is for Polisse



POLISSE

France, 2011
Running Length: 127 minutes
Cast: Karin Viard, Joey Stadd, Marina Fois, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Maiwenn
Director:  Maiwenn
Screenplay: Maiwenn, Emmanuelle Bercot
Cinematography: Pierre Aim

Winner of the 2011 Cannes Jury Prize, Polisse (misspelling intentional) is an intense, emotional journey inside a Paris Child Protection Unit.  Writer/director Maiwenn plays a photographer tasked with capturing the unit from the inside, and what she discovers is both more and less what we, the viewers, might expect.

Based on real life cases, the horrific nature of what these cops do is presented in a stark, no-nonsense manner.  The film does not dwell on these people so much as the ways the cops deal with them.  Any chance at laughter or light is grabbed at as a way to allay the darkness of what they see every day.

We see both the work-life and home life of these cops.  Neither is happy.  All the couples are either divorced or on the brink of it.  The tentative romance between Maiwenn’s photographer and one of the cops feels doomed even as it starts and is the one misstep in this otherwise well crafted film.

Not a cheerful film, but an important one, Polisse  had me crying one moment, laughing the next and completely open mouthed with shock at other times.  Yes, it’s grim, and probably not comfortably viewing for anyone with children of their own, but there is a searing honesty about this film.  Horrible as it may be, it is probably closer to the truth than we like to imagine.

Scary.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

O is for Our Idiot Brother


OUR IDIOT BROTHER

USA, 2011
Running Length: 90 minutes
Cast: Paul Rudd, Emily Mortimer, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Hugh Dancy, Steeve Coogan, Rashida Jones
Director:  Jesse Peretz
Screenplay: Jesse Peretz, Evgenia Peretz
Cinematography: Yaron Orbach

It would be easy to call Our Idiot Brother just another Forrest Gump wannabe, but that would be doing the film a disservice.

Paul Rudd plays Ned, the Idiot brother of the title.  In the opening scenes he is convinced by a sob story to sell pot to a cop and winds up in jail.  Upon his release, he goes to live with his mother and sisters in Manhattan.  While his laid back, easy going attitude fits perfectly on the biodynamic farm he was working on with his girlfriend before the bust, it is gratingly out of place in New York.

All three sisters have problems and in no time at all, Ned is involved in every one.  Na├»ve almost to a fault, Ned shares conversations meant for his ears only, discusses the things he sees even when he shouldn’t and blurts out whatever comes into his head without any self-censoring.  In doing this, he shows his sisters what is wrong with their lives.  One refuses to believe her husband is cheating on her, another won’t come clean about cheating on her girlfriend and the third is forced to make some difficult moral choices in regards to her career.

Ned’s bumbling compels each of them to face up to and fix the problems in their lives.

Rudd’s idiot is very appealing, and watching him inserting himself into Manhattan society is a riot.  While the film’s conclusion is a little too pat, and the film draws too heavily on its satire of New York’s yuppie lifestyle, the comic talent on show here is enough to overcome such small niggles.   

Monday, April 15, 2013

N is for Nannerl, Mozart's Sister


NANNERL, MOZART’S SISTER
France 2010
Running Time: 120 minutes
Cast: Marie Feret, Marc Barbe, Delphine Chuillot, David Moreau, Clovis Fouin
Director: Rene Feret
Screenplay: Rene Feret
Cinematography: Benjamin Echazaretta


Many films have covered the life of the prodigiously talented Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but this is the first time the life of his perhaps equally talented sister has been mined.  Nannerl faced numerous challenges in her pursuit of a musical career, not the least of which was her sex.

In focusing on the lesser-known Mozart, writer/director Rene Feret has almost entirely ignored the younger Mozart’s output and influence.  His role in this film is merely to make it possible for the impoverished family to travel in circles higher than their own.  This is how Nannerl ends up playing before the recently bereaved Dauphin of France and manages to capture his heart with her music.

The Dauphin is so captivated by this unknown composer, he demands a meeting.  Custom dictates that no woman can have contact with the bereaved until the mourning period is over, so Nannerl must disguise herself as a boy.  Like the plot of one of Mozart’s comic operas, the Dauphin falls for the young boy.  The relationship is doomed though, with the Mozart family moving on to London for their next engagement.

Nannerl pleads with her mother for freedom to do what she wants to do – compose – and is soon on her way back to Paris to try and make a name for herself. Or at least make her own way in the world.

But Nannerl’s talent is not enough to keep her from the affairs of court, and she doesn’t manage to fight her way to what she wants musically or personally.

By chance Nannerl meets one of Louis X V’s daughters, a young firecracker whose determination not be just another servile woman destined to cook and clean for a lifetime matches her own.  While Nannerl’s dreams are crushed by doomed love and a lack of focused ambition, Louise becomes a repentant sinner who gives her life to the church after narrowly missing an incestuous relationship.

With exceptional music, fabulous costume design and strong performances, Nannerl, Mozart’s Sister is a fascinating insight into a time and a life we know little about.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

M is for Martha Marcy May Marlene


MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE

USA, 2011
Running Length: 102 minutes
Cast: Elizabeth Olson, Hugh Dancy, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson
Director:  Sean Durkin
Screenplay: Sean Durkin
Cinematography: Jody Lee Lipes


Martha Marcy May Marlene is the extraordinary story of a woman who escapes a cult (although the word is never mentioned in the film) and seeks solace at the lake house her sister and brother-in-law are holidaying in.  The film cuts seamlessly between the present and the past, showing how and why Martha joined the cult, and how she escaped from its clutches.  Present and past blur, giving us a very real sense of what Martha’s head is like, how her world has been rattled by what she’s seen and experienced, and how she can’t reconcile that with her present.
John Hawkes is scarily perfect as Patrick , the slightly older man who presides over the cult.  He sees people, and knows what they need, and uses this knowledge to draw them in.  When he sees Martha, he knows she needs a family, and very quickly offers her one.
What Martha learns through being a subservient member of this remote farming community makes it difficult to assimilate with the day-to-day life her sister lives.  She has a big house on the lake, and her husband is a prominent New York architect.  They are trying to have a baby, something Martha sees as outrageous.
Elizabeth Olson (sister of the twins) gives an incredible performance as the uncertain and confused Martha (or Marcy May, or Marlene).  She is unsure of boundaries, and has only a tenuous hold on reality.  Whatever sense of self she may once have possessed has been stripped from her.
While some viewers will complain that the ending is frustratingly ambiguous, I disagree.  It is the perfect conclusion for a film where we have been so fully immersed in the character’s head, we no longer recognize what is real and what’s not.  And those are the questions you’ll be asking yourself as you leave the cinema.  

L is for Lars And The Real Girl

This is an oldie, but one I enjoyed so much, I felt it was worth a re- review...


LARS AND THE REAL GIRL
USA, 2007
Running Length: 113 minutes
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Patricia Clarkson, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, Kelli Garner
Director: Craig Gillespie
Screenplay: Nancy Oliver
Cinematography: Adam Kimmel

Every now and again a film comes out of the blue which is so original it seems almost miraculous.  Lars And The Real Girl is one of those films.  More miraculous is that director Craig Gillespie and writer Nancy Oliver managed to make such a touching, heartfelt comedy from material that at first glance seems too flimsy to sustain even a five minute sketch.

Lars Lindstrom (the always extraordinary Ryan Gosling) is a socially maladjusted young man who lives in the garage behind his brother and sister-in-law’s house.  They are constantly inviting Lars around, trying to draw him out of his shell, but Lars seems to prefer his own company.  Then one night Lars announces he is expecting a visitor and would like to bring her to dinner.

Bianca, when she arrives at dinner, turns out to be a life-sized sex doll.  She is a missionary, Lars claims, of Brazilian-Danish descent and she doesn’t believe in pre-marital sex.  Shocked at first, Lars’s brother and sister-in-law decide to go along with his delusion, encouraging others in their small mid-western town to do so too.  Soon the entire community has embraced Bianca, sensing that Lars is not a complete nut job, and that their support may help him through whatever personal crisis he is facing.  Above and beyond all else, this is a film about kindness.

With flawless performances, a wonderfully inventive, pitch-perfect script (from first-timer Nancy Oliver) and thoughtful direction, Lars And The Real Girl is as near to perfect as any film I have seen in recent years. 






Thursday, April 11, 2013

K is for King of Devil's Island

I think I posted this review here last year just after I saw the film.  But it's such a fantastic movie, I had to share it again.  This film made it onto my top 10 list for 2012.


KING OF DEVIL’S ISLAND

Norway, 2010
Running Length: 116 minutes
Cast: Benjamin Helstad, Stellan Skarsgard, Trond Nilssen, Kristoffer Joner
Director:  Harius Holst
Screenplay: Dennis Magnusson
Cinematography: John Andreas Andersen


Based on the true story of a rebellion in a boys’ borstal on a Norwegian island, this is a striking and unusual film.

Director Holst uses the island location to great advantage, showing the young prisoners as being both trapped and free to roam.  The ocean surrounding the island cuts them off from the rest of the world and is as effective as bars for keeping the detainees detained.

The crimes that have landed the boys here are not huge.  One boy has been incarcerated for six years for stealing from the church collection plate.  You get the sense that in many cases the boys have been sent away because they were difficult rather than criminal.

But when Erling arrives on the island, the dynamic of the prison changes.  Erling is a real criminal and coming to Bostoy is the only thing keeping him from prison.  A former sailor on a whaling ship, Erling has a powerful physiology and refuses act or feel like a prisoner.

Time and time again he pushes against those who detain him, and refuses to be broken by even the most brutal punishments.  His polar opposite is Olav, the boy accused of stealing from the collection plate.  Olav is about to be released and has the role of leader in the overcrowded boys’ dorm.  Olav is tasked with getting Erling settled into the routine of the prison and soon finds himself enmeshed in a strange kind of friendship.

Small indignities add up, and when one of the housefathers is revealed to be fiddling with a young boy, Olav’s repressed anger surges to the surface and rebellion is unleashed, the power shifting from the guards to the prisoners.

The cinematography is gorgeous, capturing the starkness of the buildings and the surrounding landscape.  Shots of the sea crashing in on snow-coated beaches are particularly gorgeous.  While the adult characters are not given much in the way of character development outside being brutal authority figures, the boys are all too human.  They fit the roles perfectly and it is their performances that make this a compelling, exciting and tragic viewing experience.  If the final scene doesn’t break your heart, then your heart is as cold as the ice Olav and Erling struggle to cross.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

J is for Jackpot



JACKPOT

Norway, 2011
Running Length: 84 minutes
Cast: Kyrre Hellum, Henrik Mestad, Marie Blokhus, Mads Ousdal
Director:  Magnus Martens
Screenplay: Magnus Martens from the story by Jo Nesbo
Cinematography: Trond Hoines

Hot on the heels of the hugely popular Headhunters, here comes another Norwegian thriller based on a story by Jo Nesbo.  And this one is just as droll and tightly plotted as Headhunters.

The film opens in the aftermath of a bloody shooting in a sex shop.  The detective, Solar, discovers Oscar alive beneath the corpse of a fat woman and drags him back to the station for questioning.  The film then cuts between the cop’s ongoing investigation and Oscar’s story of how he came to be clutching a shotgun in the sex shop with eight bodies strewn around him.

And what a story it is….

Oscar is a supervisor at a small factory producing artificial Xmas trees.  It’s one of the few businesses that employs ex-cons, so his staff are more troublesome than most.  When Oscar is coerced into joining a football betting pool with a psychopath, a somewhat dim loser and a guy who never stops grinning, you just know things are not going to go well.  Especially when the ticket proves to be a winner and there are millions of kronor at stake.

Solar listens to this story, incredulous as the death count rises, body parts are strewn across the county and both the wood chipper and nail gun at the factory are put to uses they were not intended for.  A tanning bed, a Swedish pig farm and a greedy landlord all play their part in the sordid tale.

This is a stylish, fast-paced action romp with fantastic performances from all the cast members. Some of the set pieces are inspired but gruesome, but the witty, barbed dialogue lightens the tone.

If you loved Headhunters, you won’t want to miss this one.