Friday One Sheet: Valley of Shadows

The Toronto International Film Festival has gotten underway as of yesterday, and I would be remiss if I didn’t offer one of my favourite posters, for one of my favourite films playing the festival. Valley of Shadows is a gorgeous modern version of a classic fairy tale. The story is basically simple: A boy goes into the deep dark woods to look for his lost dog, but discovers unexpected things in his journey. But the construction is impressively formal in how it conveys its images and tone.

The poster emphasizes what much of the film-making language tries tries to impart. Namely, is the lead character dreaming or is this wandering quest a reality? The large moon, and the long winding river both converge on the sleeping form of the lead character, Aslak. The boy, the dog and a boat offer the beginning of the journey at the bottom of the poster. The colours and texture is all gloomy fog, and imposing wilderness. But what is the most eye-catching is how of a piece, the sleeping body of the boy integrates with the horizon. It’s evocative, and original, like the film.

The trailer for the film is tucked under the fold.

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Teaser: Thelma

Norway’s answer to Olivier Assayas, already a master at his craft with only four features under his belt, Joachim Trier follows up the magnificent Louder Than Bombs, his English language debut, by returning to his native tongue and a supernatural sexual awakening story. Exhibiting a clean eye for visual film-making with an emphasis on people and character-study, I am curious to see what Trier can do with a more commercial project, than his past three films (which were firmly fixed on festival audiences).

Hot Docs 2016 Review: Brothers

Brødre

In Aslaug Holm’s gorgeously shot documentary on her own children – make no mistake, this is no home movie, but a rigorous 16mm film production by a veteran filmmaker – a recurring image is laundry hanging out on the line on the breezy Norwegian coast. In a sense Holm is airing her laundry figuratively as well, in Brothers, a decade long project capturing her two boys, Lukas and Markus, from ages 5 and 8 all the way into their teenage years.

The sparse images, photographs and film, Holm possesses of herself as a child, and even less media her own parents and extended family, led the urge preserve her offspring on film in a way that captures the hopes and dreams of children when their future remains completely ahead of them. The document she herself never had. She is not shy of bringing herself into the film, insofar as a reminder of the strings and mirrors of doing this sort of activity amongst the bustle of family life. As any good scientist knows, to observe an experiment is to affect the results in some capacity, and Holm and her camera factor into the frame honestly.

Markus loves soccer, and there are many shots of him practicing on a dirt pitch with his father and younger brother. Lukas has a more love-hate-love relationship with sports in general that is summed up with another recurring shot, that of the boys on the edge of a dock-house daring to jump into the water (as metaphors go, it’s powerfully obvious in that it is both obvious and powerful) at various ages.

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Trailer: Louder Than Bombs

Norwegian director Joachim Trier, a darling on the festival circuit after 2006’s Reprise and 2011’s Oslo, August 31, returns with his English language debut, Louder than Bombs, which stars the ubiquitous Jesse Eisenberg, the always wonderful Isabelle Huppert, Gabriel Byrne, David Straithairn and the boy who plays ‘Young Louis’ on Louis CK’s TV show, Devin Druid. His understated but powerful visual style is in full display in the trailer below.

An upcoming exhibition celebrating photographer Isabelle Reed three years after her untimely death, brings her eldest son Jonah back to the family house – forcing him to spend more time with his father Gene and withdrawn younger brother Conrad than he has in years. With the three of them under the same roof, Gene tries desperately to connect with his two sons, but they struggle to reconcile their feelings about the woman they remember so differently

Having already played Cannes and Karlovy Vary film festivals, and with Trier’s previous two films playing the Toronto International Film Festival in the past, here is hoping that some of us can catch this on this side of the pond before quite far off its April 2016 release date. If you’re in Norway, however, Louder Than Bombs opens in October.

A link to the trailer and two embedded clips are both tucked under the seat.

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Toronto After Dark 2014 Review: Dead Snow 2

 

 

It must’ve been the easiest elevator pitch ever…

 

“Nazi zombies…[pause for effect]…in the snow.”

 

The film I’m referring to, of course, was Dead Snow and it delivered on its premise…A field full of dead German WW II soldiers are awakened and then begin to spill the blood of a group of young adults all over fresh pristine snow. It was funny, gory and even a little bit scary. With an audience, it was a thing of beauty from the first zombie hand breaking through the cold white crust to the last open-ended moments where the sole-survivor realizes he may not yet be out of the woods. Which brings us to the sequel…

Though I guess they didn’t have to do an elevator pitch this time around (since the first film was somewhat successful), I suspect it would have gone something like this:

 

“More Nazi zombies plus Russian zombies plus more zombies, more offensive humour, more gore, more outlandish situations, more, more, more.”

 

Note there were no pauses for effect there. As a matter of fact, to give the same sensation as watching the movie, you shouldn’t have any pauses at all while you say that sentence (preferably delivering the entire pitch all in one fell swoop without taking a breath). Dead Snow 2 (subtitled “Red vs. Dead”) piles ridiculous onto ridiculous onto a mound of bodies and doesn’t wait for you to catch up with the story. It’s a pretty straightforward tale anyway: the Nazi zombies want revenge on the town that killed them and now that they have a purpose (and a tank), the only way to stop them is through a rival army of zombies. The chosen horde here is a set of Russian soldiers that had been put to death by these very same Nazis now laying waste to small Norwegian towns.

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Trailer: Jackpot

I managed to catch this Norwegian dark comedy two years ago at the Fantasia film festival (and I quite liked it). A cheeky disorganzied-crime adaptation of a Jo Nesbø (Headhunters) story that is derivative of all things Tarantino and Coen, but that’s all right. It is nothing deep, but it is a lot of fun.

Terrified and bloody, Oscar Svendsen awakes clinched to a shotgun in a strippers joint. Around him 8 dead men, and police aiming at him. To Oscar it’s clear that he is innocent. It all started when four chaps won 1,7 million on a football match.

Small outfit Doppelganger Releasing is giving Jackpot a limited theatrical run in North America to accompany its June 27th VOD release and they’ve cut a clean, fresh trailer for the film.

TIFF 2012: Thale Review

It is all crime and creature features in Norway these days, from Jo Nesbø adaptations to the Troll Hunter. I’m not quite sure who or what injected industrial grade steroids into their film industry, but I am quite glad it is happening. Thale, which falls clearly into the latter category, introduces two wonderfully watchable characters, Leo and Elvis, a two man crime scene cleaning crew (“No Shit Cleaning Service.”) The classic odd couple, Elvis is fidgety and occasionally gets sick from the more gristly aspects of the profession, where Leo is perhaps the most deadpan-zen character in a film since Tony Shalhoub in Galaxy Quest. While on the job gathering body parts of a farmer torn apart by animals in the woods, they stumble across a very creepy bunker slash laboratory slash domicile full of survival equipment, expired canned goods and a bath-tub full of a white fluid. They call for their boss to figure out how to proceed and are told to sit tight, but Elvis cannot help but touch the various recording equipment and other scientific doo-dads. This allows for the strengths and the weakness of Thale to come into sharp focus.

The various visual reveals are handled with a grace that belies the films miniscule budget. This includes the well realized and creature, a Huldra – sort a Norwegian cross between a Siren and a Dryad – who rises out of a baptism of milky fluid, a much rawer image than the similar, glossier Charlize Theron emerging in Snow White and the Huntsman. In a word, it is magnificent, and so is the performance from Silje Reinåmo. Kudos to the writer/director, Aleksander Nordaas, for never once sexualizing the lead actress, Silje Reinåmo, despite the fact that she spends almost every moment of screen time in her birthday suit. But then the film decides it no longer needs to show-not-tell and goes for some the the clumsiest rendered exposition in the form of the aforementioned recording equipment and to add insult to injury, an completely unnecessary telepathy-flashback device.

At a scant 75 minutes, the film seems to be burdened with too much exposition, and events that just ‘happen’ without much of a sense of geography. When the film is concerned with the characters it sings (often literally) but when it is concerned with plotting and logistics, it falls flat. It is too bad that we are only teased with a few birch-bark and fresh-fallen snow exteriors before the film confines its leads to a single sickly-yellow location. By the second half of the film, much of the good will built up with Leo and Elvis has dissipated into a not-quite-congealed script. There is a lot in this movie to love, but not quite enough to recommend beyond a quick film-festival stopover. For a film about empathy, I wanted to like it a lot more than I did.

Friday One Sheet: Good Timing (Oslo, August 31st)

A very understated and excellent Norwegian film with a very understated and excellent bit of key art. This image is actually taken directly from the film, but it also is pretty much the lead character’s state of being for the entirety of one day, as he leaves his drug treatment centre for a job interview, but spends much of his time wandering around the titular city. And like the film, it may not be immediately eye-catching or sexy, but it is honest and engaging. Bob Turnbull Reviewed the film last year. And, well, it seemed like the right poster for today.

TIFF & AFI Fest 2011 Review: Oslo, August 31st

Though I don’t completely subscribe to the “Auteur” theory in all its finer points, I do tend to look at films as having directorial stamps on them – not just from common stylistic points of view or as vehicles that cover similar themes, but as works that have a certain quality about them. For example, when I see a movie like Joachim Trier’s debut film Reprise, I take note of the name of the helmer because there’s a certain something about the film that appeals to me and an attention to detail that shows the person “in charge” cares about the entirety of the work. So when I noticed that Trier’s second film Oslo, August 31st was to screen at this year’s TIFF, it immediately made my short list. It’s a very different film than its predecessor as it was shot quickly, for little money and eschews the many flourishes and stylistic touches of his first film. However, it still fits nicely next to Reprise because there is not only a deft touch with its characters and a strong sense of place, but also an overall confidence about its story.

Based loosely on the French novel “Le Feu Follet” (which Louis Malle turned into the 1963 film of the same name – better known to English speakers as The Fire Within), the film shows a day in the life of one particular troubled person, but it also illuminates an entire city at the same time. The very beginning of the film shows home movies of a still smallish Oslo, but in the present day the city seems to be growing quite nicely as many cranes litter the streets signifying new construction. As Anders wanders from friend to job interview to his family’s old house, we get to see a large chunk of a lovely, restful city – a stark contrast to Anders himself. You know that friend you have that just can’t seem to get it together? While everyone has their ups and downs, this one particular person always seems to be in the worst shape (or at least that’s what they tell you)? That’s Anders. He can’t pull himself together and has already tried to kill himself once while in rehab. “I’ve always thought happy people must be morons” is one of Anders philosophies and gives a good indication where most conversations with him will likely lead.

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Trailer for Norwegian gem Headhunters

Norwegian thriller Headhunters (Kurt’s Review) is one of those great genre-gems from abroad that gets into the American re-make pipeline well before the original has a chance to find an audience; and that is the case here, as Summit is developing an English language right at this moment. Magnolia has had the rights to the film for some time, when they picked it up at the European Film Market months ago, but on their website there is no mention of either the film or a release date, although the film has already started to roll out in Europe. Here is hoping people get the chance to see this one on the big screen (Hey Magnolia, here is a free marketing hook: One of the key characters is played by Nikolaj Cster-Waldau, A Game of Thrones’ Jaime Lannister) it is a lot of fun and full of surprises.

Headhunters is an action thriller which introduces the charming douche-bag Roger Brown, a man who seems to have it all: he is Norway’s most successful headhunter, married to the beautiful gallery owner Diana, owns a magnificent house – and is living well beyond his means. Meanwhile, he is playing at the dangerous game of art theft. Headhunters is a story about deceit, faithfulness and revenge.

The subtitled trailer is tucked under the seat.

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TIFF Review: Headhunters

Flat out surprises like Headhunters is one of the main reasons I attend festivals; a gem that pops seeming out of the blue (at least to North American audiences) and sets the bar for quality genre thrills. The mechanics of a good crime thriller, Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing for instance, should involve communicating all of the pertinent details to the audience in ways both obvious and subtle and then using those details (and accompanying expectations) for the purpose of complete surprise. A good call-back, not unlike a stand up comedy routine, for further surprise can elevate a film from good to great. This glossy Norwegian film has all this and more. It takes its power suit wearing, mistress abusing, asshole – truly a hard protagonist to root for – and puts him through a river of shit of his own design, and has come out the other side as an audience favourite. Things are executed with a precise measuring of logic, reason and style.

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