Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Listomania: Thomas' Otroligt Jättebra Viewings for May 2012

No two ways about it. May was serious cinema crunch time, wading knee-deep in an onslaught of awesome Scandanavian movies. No joke, a total of 21 out of the 32 films viewed were from either Sweden, Norway, The Netherlands, even Iceland and Finland. Unlike Russia, Sweden and their frosty bretheren are (for the most part) uninterested in producing bastardized Hollywood films and it makes for some really riveting cinema. Here are the highlights from this round. [edit: For the nitpickers, I realize that The Netherlands is not really part of Scandinavia, but their films and attitudes have a lot more in common with Scandinavian films than Germany or France - fair enough?]

EXECUTIVE PROTECTION (2001): Anders Nilsson's gripping sequel to Johan Falk's first outing ZERO TOLERANCE (1999), again starring Jakob Eklund as Sweden's coolest cop. Here we get an expansion of the story arc set up in the first film and it is a real corker. Falk quits the police force after being assigned to a desk job and decides to go to work for an old colleague who is running a securities firm. The firm has been hired by a Swedish company who is being threatened with a very hostile take-over by German terrorists who have been buying up Swedish companies and using them for laundering huge sums of cash. This is the second of the Three Waves of modern terrorism and when I first read the plot synopsis on the IMDb, I thought "how could this possibly be entertaining?" Oh man, was I wrong. Not only is it massively entertaining with tons of suspense, chases, shoot-outs, cool high-tech gadgets and great acting, but it's probably one of the most entertaining action thrillers I've seen in decades. The only thing better than this is final sequel in the trilogy, THE THIRD WAVE (2003). A big thanks goes out to Fred over at Ninja Dixon for suggesting Nilsson's recent efforts. I loved his old stuff, but I never would have guessed that he would make films this great.

THE THIRD WAVE (2003): Anders Nilsson and Jakob Eklund return in this pulse-pounding final chapter (well, at least until the 2009 GSI series). After all the troubles in the first two films, Falk has been out of work for two years and is thinking maybe a simple life in the country is the way to go. Since this is Johan Falk, you know that's not going to happen! After being coerced into have a meeting with his former boss, who is now the head of a European anti-terrorist task force, Falk finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time (though this time it's not because his girlfriend was hungry). Caught in the middle of a firefight in Holland's red-light district, he ends up saving a woman who knows way too much about a massively complicated international terrorist plot for the procurement of missiles. Not only is Nilsson's direction perfectly on point, but his collaboration with writer Joakim Hansson is at a pinnacle here. A gritty, real-world plot, excellently orchestrated action and some exceptionally clever twists, particularly during the finale in Munich, that amazingly in the 10 years since this was made, has never been ripped off by imitators. Definitely one of the best films I've seen this year and quite possibly one of the best action-thrillers ever.

MEN WHO HATE WOMEN (THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, 2009): Yes, I finally got around to seeing this, prompted by some nudges from Will, the plethora of Swedish actors, the fact that it is completely unavoidable if talking about Scandanavian cinema, books or even just thrillers. That and the fact that NetFlix now offers the full-length, uncut versions with English subtitles for instant viewing. I'm not sure how they managed to cut over a half an hour to make the movie versions, but it must be some really tight editing! In case you have been living under a rock (or just have been ignoring the hype), aside from all of the window dressing involving rape, tattoos, piercings, bi-sexuality, and the politics of running a magazine with journalistic integrity, it is essentially a straight up Scandinavian murder mystery about a missing daughter and a serial killer who has been at large for half a century. It's a pretty good mystery at heart, but in the pantheon Scandinavian mystery thrillers, it's not exactly best in class. The cast (including a post-BECK Peter Haber) is great and best of all, sports ZERO TOLERANCE's Peter Andersson being sleazy as hell and looking disturbingly like Richard Harrison with that little mustache.

MURDER IN ECSTASY(1984): If you are looking for old-school detective yarns with a smidgen of updating, then this Dutch adaptation of A.C. Baantjer's 1982 entry in his series of 70 (yes, seventy) "De Cock" detective novels, is for you. "De Cock" is Dutch for "The Cook" which was amusingly changed to "DeKok" for US editions of the books. Inspector De Cock ("that's C-O-C-K" he says) finds himself investigating an armored car robbery in which one of the perps clearly got greedy and killed all of his accomplices and witnesses, except one. That one witness, the armored car driver, is sure of one thing: the robber-turned-killer was his boss! Things get complicated from there with homicidal junkies, over-sexed models, hospital assassinations, bodies in junkyards, hot headed police chiefs, drinking on the job and all the stuff that makes old-school crime fun. The disillusioned De Cock (Joop Doderer)is of the old guard and feels like his city was a playground for cops and criminals, and is now is just a violent jungle. When his young partner asks him why he doesn't carry a gun, he says "Two reasons: Because I use my brain, and because I'm not in America." If you want your cops to be under 30 (or at least pretending to be), wearing skinny suits with bed head haircuts and flashy cell phones, don't come knocking in this neighborhood. We've got gritty atmosphere, dry humor, real car stunts and girls who haven't known the indignity of a plastic surgeon. You wouldn't like that.

JAR CITY (2006): Quiet, brooding adaptation of Arnaldur Indriðason's series of Icelandic detective novels, from witer-director Baltasar Kormákur, who is currently (groan)working on an English language remake. Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson stars as Inspector Erlunder, a somewhat depressed (he is Icelandic after all) cop who is something of an expert when it comes to missing persons, and quite the opposite when it comes to non-missing ones. JAR CITY is really difficult to synopsize as Indriðason's novels are a latticework of converging plot lines from different eras. Here Erlunder tries to figure out how two dead children, 30 years apart are connected and what, if any,relevance a murdered man in a squalid apartment has. The only thing that makes him think he is on the right track is the reluctance of anyone in a small town to talk about any of these things. Stunning cinematography and a deliberately unhurried pace landed this squarely in the art-house market with plenty of awards to its credit. Don't let that put you off though, in addition to the unusually complex plot, the acting is excellent (in that subdued Scandinavian fashion) and the Icelandic scenery is amazingly grim. Also, I found a lot of entertainment value out of seeing someone order a half of a boiled sheep's head at what appeared to be a burger-joint drive-through. I can't imagine what banality will replace this in the US remake. Pizza with anchovies, I guess.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008): Thanks to Will's nudging, I finally got around to seeing this outstanding, laconic chiller. Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), a young, frequently bullied boy with some repressed anger issues is befriended by a young girl, Eli (Lina Leandersson), who is, unbeknownst to him, a very old vampire looking to replace her current human protector. The subtle manipulation of Oskar, who is the product of a failed marriage between a hysterical mother and an alcoholic father, is so delicately laid out and unfolded, that some viewers have, like Oskar, been left feeling as if this relationship is nothing more than true love. Writer John Ajvide Lindqvist (who adapted his own novel) manages to make something moody, dark and visually arresting without an ounce of pretension and is completely in sync with director Tomas Alfredson who is in no hurry to tell his story, but never makes the film feel slow. The acting is excellent on all counts, particularly considering the age of the leads. I can't really think of a single thing to nitpick, except maybe that the swimming pool scene at the end was maybe a bit unnecessary. Yeah, you heard it, I said that maybe it didn't need a gory finale. Either way, it is without a doubt one of the best horror films I've seen in a very long time. A horror film from Sweden, no less!

HEADHUNTERS (2011): Great Norwegian thriller that takes a long time to work up a head of steam, but is well worth your patience. A slick corporate headhunter, Roger Brown(Aksel Hennie), obsesses over his diminutive height and steals fine art from his clients to pay for his lavish lifestyle and his rather tall wife's love. After finding out a recent transplant and head of a rival tech corporation is in possession of a priceless painting, he sets up the schmoe, Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), even after he discovers that this particular schmoe is really a lethal ex-special forces, former mercenary badass. The first 45 minutes is set-up for, mostly, the main character Roger Brown and while I'm not sure that the film really needs all of that exposition, it crams so many twists with a really clever sense of jet-black humor that all is forgiven after Brown discovers that he is suddenly on the endangered species list and a bloody cat and mouse chase leaves a trail of corpses all over the country. Very well crafted scenes and an excellent cast - particularly Eivind Sander as a securities guy who's idea of a good time is playing naked cops and robbers with real guns and a Russian prostitute. Oh and, yes, there has been talk of a completely unnecessary US remake with Mr. Funky Bunch, Mark Wahlberg expressing a lot of interest. It had to end on a down note, didn't it?

SLEEPWALKER (2000): This Swedish thriller is easily the best videocamera thriller ever made... well, at least for the first 80 minutes. Make that, best thriller ever. Seriously, I cannot think of the last time I was completely riveted to a thriller the way I was glued to this one. The outside world melted away and I was sucked into Ulrik Hansson's (Ralph Carlsson) nocturnal world of terror. A mild-mannered family man, Ulrik, is over stressed at work and resorts to knocking back prescription sleeping pills with red wine every night to get some sleep. One morning he wakes up, covered in blood and completely alone in the house. After finding out that the blood is not human, the police figure his wife took the kids and left him. Ulrik decides to keep taking the pills and wine, but this time straps a video camera to his shoulder to see what happens after he goes to sleep. Writer Johan Brännström creates a stunningly clever plot that twists and turns so many times that the viewer is constantly thinking and re-evaluating Ulrik's situation, trying to figure out what really happened to his family. The awful truth of the matter is that the film completely crashes and burns in the final 10 minutes. A gut-wrenching implosion with resolution that is pasted in from a completely different 70 year old US film. It is extremely disappointing since the first 80 minutes were so exceptionally good.

RARE EXPORTS (2010): I like a good, subversive Christmas movie. I don't really consider CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989) to be subversive, yes, there are some funny parts, but it's still just as mainstream as A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983). SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT (1984) is probably the classic example, even though half of the reason it's so subversive is that whipped the Christian extremist groups into a lather resulting in all manner of fallout (ummmm, did they not realize that Santa is freakin' pagan?). Maybe GREMLINS could be considered slightly subversive, but it still is mostly cute. RARE EXPORTS is a Finish film that walks on the lighter side, but is not afraid to get dark and creepy in between the laughs. It is the only film that I can think of that boldly claims that Santa Clause was in point of fact an ancient horned giant who would kidnap naughty children and eat their succulent flesh! This could have gone in so many directions, but writer-director Jalmari Helander is dead on target with this morbidly tongue-in-cheek tale in which geologists unearth the real Santa Clause, who has been trapped in a glacier mountain for centuries near a remote hunting village in Finland. After finding their reindeer slaughtered and some children go missing, the hunting community blames the scientists (yep, science is always ruining everything, including Christmas). Of course, the only person to really figure out the score is 8 year old Pietari (Onni Tommila). As fun and funny as the film is, there are some genuinely creepy moments that make it something that may not be any where near as extreme as SILENT NIGHT, but is definitely not going to garner the enthusiasm of the CHRISTMAS STORY crowd. Is the ending a tad anti-climactic? Maybe a little, but it's excellently acted, deftly written, lots of fun and it is going straight into my Christmas rotation.

1 Reactions:

  1. As a Scandaspawn, I'm thrilled to hear the descendants of my ancestors are churning out some solid flickage. I've heard really good things about HEADHUNTERS - sadly missed it before it left Chicago theaters. Have to try and catch it on disc. Glad to see you finally caught up with (and joined the lovefest for) LTROI and RARE EXPORTS. Haven't seen or heard of the others prior to your post, but I'm pretty stoked to see them now.


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