Refn's sequel to his 1st PUSHER film is another bleak trip to Copenhagen's underworld.
Trollhunter. 2010. Directed & Written by André Øvredal.
Starring Otto Jespersen, Hans Morten Hansen, Tomas Alf Larsen, Johanna Mørck, Knut Naerum, Robert Stoltenberg, and Glenn Erland Tosterud. Momentum Pictures.
Rated PG-13. 103 minutes.
★★★★★ (Blu ray release)
When you hear the title Trollhunter it isn’t easy to imagine what the plot and story of the film might be. You guessed it.
Basically, a group of students are making a documentary about a slew of supposed bear killings, and a possible poacher. While visiting places where the poacher supposedly killed bears, illegally, the students talk to hunters, as well as a man from the Wildlife Board in Norway. Though there is some doubt, the consensus is this poacher, Hans (Jespersen), has been killing animals, regardless if they were bears or not.
Then the students start following Hans until one night they see wild lights in the forest while trailing him, and roars in the trees. Eventually they discover Hans does not hunt bears, he hunts trolls. Of course they don’t really believe him at first, but soon enough it is all too obvious Hans is telling the truth. And so the students continue on with Hans to uncover the truth about trulls that the Norwegian government hopes to keep covered up.
Most obviously to me when I first started watching the movie for the first time, Trollhunter is one of the more original films in any genre, from any country I’ve seen – in a long time. Not to say there aren’t original films. Yes, of course there are, I’m not crazy. But this film is one of the more unique of those originals probably in the past decade. This story is fresh. They take found footage, which can often be a tired genre nowadays with the flooded market of bad horror entries using its premise (side note: I love found footage – when it’s used well), and used it in a fantasy style. Though the effects are not always perfect, the trolls are absolutely incredible. When you first get a good look at one of them, it’s fascinating. They did a great job of taking a fantasy element and dropping it into a modern setting. I suppose the fact it’s a Norwegian film helps, as there’s a lot more folklore and such from their culture/geographical location to carry the subject along. I feel if the Americans wanted to remake this, which I’m sure they’ll do (apparently Chris Columbus’ company has the rights – not sure if this is the case any longer or what), they would have to pick some other type of monster instead of trolls; the trolls just fit so well with Norway, and perhaps might fit with other European locations. That’s what gives the story some better pull, in my opinion.
The actual physical locations used in filming Trollhunter are also part of what makes it great overall. There are some beautiful landscapes.
The entire film is played as a mockumentary, which also lends itself well to the story, as there are some real great silly bits. It helps that Otto Jespersen, as well as some other Norwegian comedians, were in the film. I didn’t know this until I watched the special features. But you can tell a few of the actors have great comedic timing. While there are bits that are definitely verging on horror, though not blood & guts style, the best parts of Trollhunter are the ones which are played firmly with their tongue jammed in cheek. This is absolutely a dark fantasy film, but the comedy really shines, and the mix of genre blends pretty well. Jerspersen especially as Hans really does a fabulous job at bringing out laughs, even at times when you’re not sure if you’re supposed to be laughing or not.
As I mentioned before, the special effects are not always spot on. That’s not to say they’re bad. Not in the least. The budget, in American dollars, was only $4-million.
Only you say?
Well, take a look at some of your favourite big budget pictures, and compare those with that of Trollhunter. They did a fabulous job with the amount of money they were working with, and it shows. Not every troll looks flawless, but so what? They still look like massive god damned trolls. They were at times funny, but always creepy, and always terrifying. The look of the trolls works, regardless of the effects. My favourite troll is the one with three heads; I don’t know why, just dig it. A lot.
As a film, Trollhunter is topnotch. However, I could have used some better acting. That’s my only problem. Jespersen was solid the whole way through, but some of the supporting actors weren’t exactly great. They weren’t poor, either. They could’ve just used some work. I can’t really knock them for the few parts where their special effects weren’t perfect because, as I mentioned, the budget wasn’t huge compared to most films. Especially for something indulging the fantasy genre the way Trollhunter does. Overall, I loved this film, and I can watch it often when I want a fix of both some fantasy, as well as a bit of comedy.
The Blu ray release for Trollhunter just don’t quit! Love it. There are some deleted scenes, plus they include some moments of improvisation while filming, and to add, a bunch of bloopers. All a good time. Then there are also some extended scenes thrown in. One of the best featurettes is the visual effects; they give us a nice little look at some of the work they did. You really get a better appreciation for the film watching a lot of the behind-the-scenes extras.
Any fan of foreign films, whether you enjoy drama, comedy, horror, or whatever, will certainly get a treat if they check out Trollhunter. Like I said, this is dark fantasy, all the way, but the comedy really sustains it. Not that you couldn’t make a deadly serious horror about trolls; you absolutely could. My belief is that Trollhunter treats things seriously at times while knowing exactly when to pull out the comedy bag of tricks. You won’t be disappointed. This is a great film. Also refreshing to get a look at something that isn’t typical; this is a movie with a bit of creative backbone. I hope others will check out the Blu ray, and really hope those who watch the movie enjoy it the way I did.
Málmhaus (English title: Metalhead). 2013. Directed & Written by Ragnar Bragason.
Starring Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson, Thora Bjorg Helga, Sveinn Olafur Gunnarsson, and Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson.
Unrated. 97 minutes.
Hera, as a young girl on her family’s farm, witnesses her older brother Baldur die in a freak accident while riding a tractor. Later, as a teenager, Hera gets into the heavy metal lifestyle and music Baldur enjoyed. She lives in a tiny community where her newfound choices don’t exactly go over well. Her father and mother struggle with the motions she goes through. They attend church, while she only rebels against it. Hera not only picks up heavy metal, both listening to it and playing it, she also takes to more violent, destructive behaviour; this all culminates in a very serious act of vandalism and arson. She is at odds with the people and place where she lives. Everything feels too ordinary and small for Hera, and so her rebellion grows large.
The whole film is essentially about Hera’s struggle, however, we also get an eye of what her parents go through in their own struggle to deal with death. Aside from the family there is also the great character of Janus, a new priest in the town. He is secretly a very cool guy underneath the black clothes and the collar; in a very suggestive scene, or at least it is at the start, Janus takes off his shirt to reveal to Hera a tattoo. He then proceeds to tell her he loves Iron Maiden, Venom, Celtic Frost, among others. His taste in music transcends the priestly garb, and he even gives a line similar to “don’t judge a book by its cover” (or maybe it was exactly that – I can’t remember now).
I really like that the film included Janus as a character because this shows the multiple lives a person can live; they are not defined by their occupation, nor are they defined by the music they listen to. However, Janus gives off signals Hera misinterprets. Their relationship isn’t what she thought, and it sets her off further against God; this being one of the threads running through Metalhead.
Any drama truly thrives on its performances. Above story, above mood or setting or plot, the actors and actresses of a film (or any performance truly whether it’s onscreen or onstage) really carry things; if they do a bad job, the film can fall flat. On the other hand, if they do even a mediocre job a film that might not have been any good without them becomes really worthwhile. In Metalhead, the performances give even more punch to a great story. Thora Bjorg Helga, as Hera, really does a spectacular job portraying a young woman trying to find herself while also mourning the loss of someone whom she loved very much.
The film does a good job of illustrating, to those who don’t already know, how music can both destroy as well as heal; it has both of these capabilities, whether people like it or not. Hera clings to music as a means of identifying herself. She also immerses herself into music because it helps her still keep Baldur with her in spirit. There are beautiful scenes where we get to watch Hera go through intense emotion while she puts the dark soul in her inside the music she plays.
There are some other solid performances in Metalhead to round the film out. Such as Sveinn Olafur Gunnarsson as Janus, the heavy metal rocker priest, and also Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson who portrays Hera’s equally trouble father Karl. Although Helga herself is the main focus of the film, and a strong female lead, these two male leads also provide great non-typical characterizations of familiar characters.
Later in the film, after Hera has almost fully abandoned music in her life; it has gone away, and she resigns herself to a life that is simply available to her instead of one she actively seeks out and wants. Then when three men show up looking for Hera, having heard some of the demo tapes she made while deeply mourning her brother, music comes back into her life. What follows in the finale of the film is absolutely beautiful.
There is a final moment of catharsis in the moments before credits roll on Metalhead which almost made me cry. I couldn’t believe it. The whole time you watch the film there are moments where you actually hope for a good end to everything. Most times, even while watching a terrifying film like a horror or maybe a thriller, I find myself looking for a grim ending because honestly, in my opinion, those are more interesting film-wise. Happy endings don’t usually jive with me because they are too heavy handed, too smug. On the contrary, the moments closing out this film are absolutely perfect, not only for the plot, but also tonally. It just, simply put, works; damn well. The tragic and heavy tone throughout much of Metalhead, including what I feel are some excellent moments of dark comedy, all play well with the end. Some endings can take the tone and throw it out, however, this one hits its mark, and strikes a fair balance where everything comes out slick.
I have to give the movie a 4.5 out of 5 star rating. I have one small problem with Metalhead. I felt they could have used a little more time on female relationships. They explored the mother slightly because there were some fascinating shots and bits of scenes where we really got to see her almost in the same light as Hera. But they didn’t get enough of it in there. With the inclusion of Janus and Hera’s father Karl, it felt as if there was a lack of more female presence in movie. It isn’t necessarily something that detracts from how beautiful or successful in its goal Metalhead is in the end. Personally, it’s just something that would’ve made this a little stronger overall. There is a lot of ground left to be covered concerning Hera’s mother that I wish they could have, or would have, covered. I recommend anyone who loves a good drama to check out Metalhead once they can.
I believe Raven Banner is handling the Canadian distribution across all media. This is really great film. Not only for those who are fans of metal (there are some musical treats within, no doubt!), but those who enjoy heavy, personal dramas. There are some big, great aspirations here concerning faith, music, forgiveness, and other themes. I think Metalhead delivers on most levels. It is worth the money and time to see something not typical of most dramas: a middle-ground view of ideas about death, love, heavy metal, and religion.
Les Salauds (English title: Bastards). 2013. Dir. Claire Denis. Screenplay by Denis & Jean-Pol Fargeau.
Starring Vincent Lindon and Chiara Mastroianni. Wild Bunch.
Unrated. 100 minutes.
Marco (Lindon) is a sailor. A well-known one at that. He’s long cut off any ties with his family. After his brother-in-law commits suicide, Marco’s sister asks him to come help take care of the man who is responsible- a man named Edouard Laporte (who looks creepily like the last pope, the scary German one). So Marco gets an apartment in the city to start investigating things himself. Soon, he begins having a sexual relationship with Laporte’s wife (Mastroianni). Not long after this the real doozy events start piling up.
First is the shocking revelation Marco discovers from his niece’s doctor: her vagina is so badly damaged they need to do reconstructive surgery on it in the near future to have any chance at repairing it. I hesitate to say anything further. Shortly after, Marco thinks he has the truth. Unfortunately for him, and his niece, things are not at all what they seem. For those who’ve experienced the work of Claire Denis before now, Bastards pretty much sits right on par with her most disturbing, unnerving work. Though Trouble Every Day is my favourite film of hers personally, this one comes into the top few numbers.
Denis focuses many of her films around violence, however, it’s not often she indulges the imagery in full force. Much of the imagery she chooses to use, while disturbing, is usually subtle, subdued. Denis understands the less is sometimes more. Certainly, when dealing with rape, and particularly here in Bastards a really vile sort (if you can imagine categorizing such a thing by its level of heinousness), it’s easier to let the audience conjure up their own, often more personal, images of these things. That eats at the core of an audience more than anything, even if they don’t realize it themselves. Denis does this in Bastards.
In particular, one specific image dominates the entire film. It happens just before the 45-minute mark, as Marco is shown around what looks to be an apparent backwoods porn studio of sorts, which caters to people who like to ‘do their own thing’. First, we’re treated to some horribly candid shots – cumshots. Denis lingers on Marco as he eyes the filth in thie place. Then, on the floor, Marco sees something. Something which I, on the first viewing, had to rewind just to see. I couldn’t believe it. I knew, knowing Denis and her work, this would probably end up being disturbing, or shocking in some sort of way. But I was definitely surprised, and sufficiently disturbed, once I saw what Marco saw himself. I won’t reveal it – let’s just say, he leaves with more knowledge and more anger than when he’d walked in there. Also, it calls to mind the novel Sanctuary by William Faulkner.
There’s another moment when Marco’s niece runs away from the hospital that really gets me. It isn’t graphic so much as it’s there, present, in your face, while Denis shows it to us in shadowy darkness, as if to say “imagine what else you can’t see right now”. We get glimpses of the niece and her vicious injuries, but only in tiny snapshots, barely enough to really register. Maybe that’s a good thing. The story is not for everyone. It’s not graphic visually, but once you put the pieces together behind the plot you really bite your fist a bit. And not in a good way. It will make you cringe. I feel I’m desensitized, mainly that’s as far as horror imagery goes. When it comes to subject matter there are still things which really bother me. For instance, rape, and even worse the rape of a minor. There are tough bits in here. Then of course the finale really blows your top off. And not in a good way.
The final shot is beautiful, dark, disturbing, and Denis sets it to a Tindersticks cover of Hot Chocolate’s “Put Your Love In Me” – this will haunt me to the end of my days. The song itself is haunting, but coupled with the images Denis shows while it plays, just long enough before the credits eventually cut in to roll, this is absolutely crushing. It is amazing. Yet a terribly powerful moment that really had an effect on me. The way it’s shot, the music, what’s actually happening in the scene – remarkable. Possibly my favourite part, although highly unsettling, in the entire film. Denis is a master of her craft.
If you’re not into disturbing subject matter, if you can’t enjoy a plot laden with both sex and some graphic themes centered on sexual violence, then I suggest you take a pass on Denis’ Bastards. This is a challenging film. There are even bits you might feel a little conflicted towards. Marco’s relationship with Laporte’s wife gets into some very deep and murky territory at points. The ending of the film got to me, I must say. For me, the film was wonderful.
I dig the way Denis approaches tough subject matter. I also admire her talent as a director. There are very beautiful shots here amongst all of the misery in Bastards. It isn’t all a pit of despair. Not only that, but Denis always manages to find a good performance. From the likes of Beatrice Dalle and Vincent Gallo to her regular work with Alex Descas (here as the doctor to Marco’s niece), there is always great work in her films. Here, Vincent Lindon really does a phenomenal job as the male lead. He is a bit mysterious, even dangerous. He’s got a bit of dirty side to him. Nowhere near as dirty as the people he investigates during his own little trip into the underworld, in search of whoever it was that hurt his niece. His performance really carries a film that could easily be dragged down by its intense and disturbing subject matter.
All in all I have to give this film a 4.5 out of 5 stars. It’s a fantastic, yet grim, work by Claire Denis. She continues to make challenging films. Most of her work is not easy, and maybe not totally accessible. But when you sit through one of them and really absorb things, they get under your skin. Denis has caused many nights of wondering for me, particularly with her film
Trouble Every Day, as I mentioned earlier being my favourite work of hers. Bastards is almost neck and neck with that one. Hard to choose between. Very different, but also both very amazing pieces of work. The only reason I don’t give Bastards a full 5 star rating is because I wish there was a little more SOMETHING to it. I’m not sure what that something is, but I just know there’s a tiny little bit of something, whatever it may be, missing from this film. Not that it detracts from the rest of it. I was just left wanting more at the end. Not in a way that excited me, but a small disappointment, as if I’d been waiting for one other thing to leap out at me. Regardless of that, I think Bastards is well worth watching. Not only is it challenging, it’s just a well-written and well-acted film. Denis’ films are all visually interesting, no matter what their subject. This is no exception to that rule. If you’re ready for something fairly dark and stormy some night, pick up a copy of Bastards, and you won’t regret it even if the story is tough to chew at times.
But one thing’s for certain – don’t count on the ending to cheer you up and band-aid those emotional cuts and bruises. It’ll only beat you up some more.