DIR/:Hans Petter Moland • WRI: Kim Fupz Aakeson • PRO: Stein B. Kvae• DOP: Philip Øgaard • ED: Jens Christian Fodstad • MUS:Brian Batz, Kaspar Kaae, Kåre Vestrheim • DES: Jørgen Stangebye Larsen • CAST: Stellan Skarsgard, Bruno Ganz
Wow, where to begin with this great little Norwegian movie. A movie that must be seen to be believed, it might be well described as Taken with a sense of humour. On the face of it, it’s a by-the-numbers revenge flick, but one that has a wickedly twisted sense of humour, which is a delight to behold.
The film follows Nils, a highly respected member of his local community, who runs an agricultural machinery business. Nils’ son is found dead, and upon discovering that it was not, as first thought, an overdose, but a murder organised by a local crime boss named Junior, Nils goes on a murderous revenge mission. Junior starts to grow anxious as members of his crew start to slowly disappear, and, blaming a rival gang, he starts a war.
The film stars, and is produced by, Stellan Skarsgard, who will be very familiar to cinemagoers for his roles in Hollywood films such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Good Will Hunting. He and the rest of the cast do an excellent job, in what is most definitely an OTT film, which at times calls for some ludicrously OTT acting.
The ingredients are there for this movie to be lazily labelled Tarantinoesque, the stylized violence, the dark humour and even the Pop culture references, but there’s something very different about this movie, that I suspect has something to do with a very specific Nordic sensibility that I can’t quite put my finger on.
There’s no doubt that this movie is not for the faint hearted, but my god is it good fun. This is a movie that has something in it for almost everyone. Warning!! Be prepared to laugh at things that you probably shouldn’t laugh at.
DIR/WRI: Lars von Trier • PRO: Louise Vesth • DOP: Manuel Alberto Claro • ED: Morten Højbjerg, Molly Marlene Stensgaard • DES: Simone Grau • CAST: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin
No point beating around the bush (regrettably, puns are difficult to avoid when we’re dealing with this film): this is a four-hour long Lars Von Trier film – split in two for mass market consumption – about a sex addict, in which the ‘o’ in the title has been replaced with a symbol for a vagina. Before we discuss the specifics of the film(s), I’m pretty sure a lot of viewers will have a pretty clear idea of what they’re letting themselves in for. I don’t like to predict what any given viewer will think of a film, but I’d be fairly certain a considerable percentage of both von Trier fans and critics will find more than enough here to support their existing stances.
In many ways, this is the film von Trier was always going to make. Throughout cinema history, we can identify the point when many of a filmmaker’s key concerns, themes and style reach something of a natural culmination through a single film. I’d include the likes of Bergman’s Persona, Kurosawa’s Ran, Mizoguchi’s The Life of Oharu or Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Obviously none of these films were the final or definitive statements from any of these directors, but they can, in their way, be seen as the films their respective auteurs were always going to make given their interests up until that point.
I’m not putting Nymph()maniac – I feel silly typing those brackets, so I’ll stop now – up there with Vertigo, or favourably comparing von Trier with Mizoguchi (there’s certainly a great essay about how those two male directors portray their predominantly female protagonists and their roles in society). But many von Trier films have explored sexuality and attempted to understand the fairer sex: The Idiots, Breaking The Waves, Dancer in the Dark, Dogville, Manderlay, Antichrist etc… With Nymphomaniac, von Trier is far more literal and, let’s be honest, explicit with his intentions. Indeed, one scene is a direct callback to that infamous prologue to Antichrist, albeit with a notably different conclusion. Overall, however, this is perhaps the textbook example of a Lars von Trier film. The results, predictably, are intriguing, frustrating, smart and ridiculous.
The titular Nymphomaniac is named Joe, who is played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stacy Martin (as a young Joe) and, briefly, by a trio of child actresses. The film opens with a man called Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) finding Joe badly beaten in an alleyway. Taking her home for rest and shelter, the kind and gentle Seligman listens attentively as Joe tells him her life story – with, as you might imagine, a particular focus on her sex life – over the course of eight separate chapters. The chapters are in manys ways episodic albeit ultimately forming a relatively complete ‘whole’. There is one near constant, and that is Jerome (Shia LeBeouf): the man with whom Joe lost her virginity. Jerome pops up several times over the course of Joe’s tale, and it’s his repeated presence – one of only two of Joe’s relationships that could be called ‘romantic’ – that gives the film a kind of overall narrative skeleton, alongside the recurring conversation between Joe and Seligman.
The episodic structure could be seen as both a weakness and a strength. It allows von Trier a stylistic freedom – the film is mostly shot in a consistent handheld style, but chapter four, for example, is presented in black and white (suiting the sequence’s more melancholic tone), while the chapter preceding it is a shot in a different aspect ratio to the rest of the film. Other sequences utilise stylistic tricks including giant superimposed text, split-screen and rapid montages of photographs of penises (yep). The structure also offers von Trier the opportunity to explore a range of different topics – from ponderings on love to the unique appeal of sadomasochism.
The film’s far-and-away best chapter is the third, entitled Mrs. H, in which Uma Thurman appears as a spurned wife whose husband (Hugo Speer) has just left home to move in with Joe (who, it should be pointed out, has no intentions of allowing such a thing, having simply led Mr. H on as part of an elaborate, randomised tease she engages in with all of her partners). It’s a terrifically weird, uncomfortable and amusing sequence, with Mrs. H bringing her young children along to show them the ‘whoring bed’. It’s a self-contained story – albeit one that provides an insight into the consequences of Joe’s actions – but an example of how the film benefits from the episodic approach.
This approach does lead to an overall sense of unevenness. The first chapter is perhaps the least interesting of all, von Trier deciding to have Seligman frequently interrupt the narrative to expand on forced, awkward metaphors, with several chapters given particular ponderous titles – e.g. The Eastern and Western Church (The Silent Duck). I hate to use the word ‘pretentious’ (the least useful word in film criticism), but certainly when the film cuts away to try and draw an extended comparison to Fibonacci sequences you kind of wish von Trier would get back on point. Indeed, the voiceover and philosophical ponderings generally veer wildly between interesting and absurd, although at least von Trier allows Joe to sardonically comment on that fact later on.
As ever, von Trier manages to cross to merrily provoke and troll in equal measure. The latter begins early, with a quiet, serene opening scene very bluntly interrupted by a Rammstein music cue being blasted out at top volume. One is never quite sure whether film’s explicit content and language is designed to create a brutally honest portrait of sexuality, or whether it’s primarily intended for shock value. This is perhaps most obvious in a strange series of scenes where Joe has an encounter with a pair of African men (Papou and Kookie Ryan), where the intentions and commentary are so ambiguous it’s hard to know what to make of any of it. Perhaps that’s von Trier intention, though: to make a film that’s wide open to discussion, disagreements and analysis. He’s not exactly the kind of guy who actively avoids a bit of controversy, after all, and the film’s many attempts to address issues of sexuality and gender are inevitably going to divide. We could call it ‘feminist’ cinema, but I could easily imagine many subscribers to that school of criticism vocally rejecting that description.
That said, there are plenty of genuinely interesting moments and insights throughout the film. Joe is a complex, curious character throughout, with Gainsbourg and Martin portraying various stages of pride, desperation, pleasure, self-loathing, grief, passion and more over the course of many twists and turns. Joe can be a bit of a cypher – sometimes frustratingly so, other times fascinatingly so. A few chapters – such as the one dealing with the illness of her father (Christian Slater) or her attempts to conquer a particular numbness – can be relatively poignant in their own eccentric way. Von Trier’s presentation can often be purposefully emotionally removed, but there is a vibrant character study film at Nyphomaniac’s core.
There’s a whole lot to talk about when it comes to this film, so I’ll race through two last points. First is concerning the supporting cast. A range of familiar faces pop up, some only granted a scene or two – Connie Nielsen as Joe’s mother, for example, must surely have had a much more substantial role at some point. Jamie Bell is a standout as a strict S&M master, and as mentioned Thurman steals the show. LaBeouf is a weak-link though, with his truly appalling attempt at an English accent. And just a quick note on the two volume presentation (which, to add some more confusion, is the ‘cut’ version – the uncut or ‘hardcore’ version adds another hour and a half to the four-hour version being released into Irish cinemas, although a lot of that is more sex). It’s a bit of a shame, as the film is clearly one complete work – semi-suddenly cutting to credits during Volume 1, and continuing on without a breath at the start of Volume 2. No doubt the split will benefit cinemas and distributor Artificial Eye financially, but I for one would recommend trying to see them both at the same time if at all possible.
Well, that’s Nymphomaniac then. Say what you will about von Trier, but this is most definitely a film from that bold, uncompromising Dane. So you know what you’re letting yourself in for, don’t you?
DIR: Alan Taylor • WRI: Christopher Yost, , Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely • PRO: Kevin Feige • DOP: Kramer Morgenthau • ED: Dan Lebental, Wyatt Smith • MUS: Brian Tyler • DES: Charles Wood • CAST: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgård
The first Thor’s success came as a bit of surprise. It turned out to be better than anticipated and made far more money than anyone expected. It also solidified that Marvel’s grand experiment in bringing comic book-style shared-continuity to the big-screen might just work. With the critical and commercial success of last year’s Avengers Assemble, the next big question was whether these characters could still hold their own in their individual franchises. While Iron Man 3’s billion dollar box-office gross would seem to imply they could, that film had the trump card of starring Robert Downey Jr. In that sense, Thor: The Dark World is the first real test of the viability of these individual character franchises. With the most recent Thor (Chris Hemsworth) outing being the aforementioned juggernaut that was The Avengers, how does it stack up? Shocking (no pun intended, seriously), extremely well.
The hiring of Game of Thrones alumni Alan Taylor initially seemed like a gimmick but proves to have been a very clever move. While the obvious benefit carried over from Thrones is the staging of the large-scale battles and medieval tavern scenes, Taylor’s real talents are in making a stand-alone film that is still continuity-heavy without relying explicitly on what came before. Additionally he seems to have brought his skill of balancing an ensemble cast’s screen-time from Thrones as he does an impressive job here of giving almost every character some form of arc. Practically every secondary character gets a ‘big moment’ at some point and while some of them seem to just vanish from the film after performing their moment, that the film still maintains a fast (but never rushed) pace without feeling bloated or weighed down by all these extra characters deserves praise.
The novelty of the combining Viking aesthetics with Star Wars elements also works consistently well. The visual and sound designs combined have a strong, distinct personality which counterbalances the heavy use of CGI in giving the film an identity which is very much its own without the sense of ‘sci-fi/fantasy setting du-jour’ that many other CGI-heavy films suffer from. Additionally Brian Tyler’s score is hugely enjoyable, if not particularly ground-breaking.
The film is also pleasantly uncomplicated. The current trope of the modern superhero film seemingly being contracted to be about the War on Terror has been getting extremely tired. Between Man of Steel’s 9/11-times-ten or even Iron Man 3’s final act getting visually bogged down in unsubtle drone-warfare allusions, it’s refreshing that the movie about the space-god and his magic hammer is just about the space-god and his magic hammer. That’s not to say other interpretations aren’t available but Thor has the common courtesy not to be unnecessarily blatant. Which makes it all the more surprising that, in comparison to the first film, this one feels significantly less kid-friendly. Possibly as a result of having a Game of Thrones regular helming proceedings, the battles and general violence feel less outright fantastical and have more punch to them. There’s even a moment of rather explicit gore involving a limb being hacked off which just feels slightly out of place amidst the usual ‘comic-book-violence’. Add in some mild but repeated swearing and one really does get the sense they’re trying to aim for a slightly older audience this time.
Yet, of all the movie’s successes perhaps the most impressive is that it has managed to make Kat Dennings’ character tolerable. She’s actually funny this time and they’ve written her so that when she blunders into an action scene in the name of ‘comic relief’, you aren’t praying to your deity of choice that she’s killed by a stray anything just to end her interminable screen-time. She’s still a cardboard cut-out of character to whom the concept of character-depth would be more alien than the actual aliens, but not expressly wanting her dead is a definite improvement on the previous film. On the whole the comedy and slapstick elements have greatly increased in both frequency and quality (including brief appearances by a certain Mr O’Dowd and an hilarious cameo I wouldn’t dare spoil) which act to complement the increased overall darkness in tone and violence.
There are of course a few minor foibles. It is honestly impossible to genuinely gauge how this film would play to a more ‘casual’ audience. The film never loses itself so deeply in its own mythology and universe that it would become impenetrable to someone unfamiliar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or Thor in particular, but nor does it make any effort to truly explain (or rather, re-explain) the rules and the players. This is not necessarily a critique of the film seeing as that was always the point of the shared continuity of these films but while something like Iron Man 3 is grounded enough that anyone could jump right in and be able to follow it, I’m not sure if the same can be said of a film filled with magic hammers, Norse gods speaking ye-olde English and sci-fi elements existing alongside what’s effectively magic.
Villains are another issue. While Marvel films have long struggled to create truly memorable villains, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) seemed to be the exception and they’re clearly aware of this. Eccleston (practically unrecognisable between the make-up and the alternations to his voice) makes for a perfectly foreboding presence and his evil scheme is clearly laid out. The problem is that he only exists to be a villain, there’s no depth or intrigue and his only true purpose is to act as the necessary plot motivation to get Loki out of his cell so that the film can focus on him and Thor. Again this is not a problem for the already converted (go team Hiddleston) but it does indicate the beginnings of an attitude of pandering to fan-boys/girls at the cost of losing the more casual audience; the exact problem the modern comics industry frequently finds itself facing.
For what was ultimately a slightly shaky production (Portman’s presence being in question, numerous changes of director and composer), it’s almost a minor miracle that the film that emerged is coherent. However, it is a genuinely pleasant surprise that the film is as good as it is. It takes what was a reasonably solid first film and the goodwill built up by Avengers and improves on both. This is arguably the new high watermark for Marvel Studios and even sets the bar for the next Star Wars to beat. In many ways the film offers a glimpse of what a good version of the Star Wars prequels may have looked like. And it’s very good indeed.
If you aren’t sold on the superhero genre or the Marvel films in particular, this is unlikely to change your mind but for anyone already a fan of the genre and especially these characters, this is one of the best and most unashamedly fun popcorn movies of recent years. And as if it needs to be said at this point, the film doesn’t end at the credits.
Acclaimed Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård will fly into Dublin this February to celebrate the programme launch and 10th anniversary of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (JDIFF). The actor, known for his roles in Good Will Hunting and the recent hit The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo, will be joined at the 10th Birthday celebrations by Irish actress Amy Huberman (A Film With Me In It, Threesome), as well as members of the Irish cinema industry in a much anticipated event in the newly re-opened Light House Cinema.
Skarsgård will also be honoured earlier that day with a Volta, the festival Career Achievement Award at a reception attended by Irish filmmakers. The Festival presents the Volta awards annually to outstanding individuals who have made significant contributions to the world of film, and Skarsgård is being honoured for his work in both Scandinavian and English language films. From his start in the Swedish TV series Bombi Bitt and collaborations with award-winning Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland, to his American breakthrough with Lars von Trier’s Breaking The Waves, Skarsgård has become a regular and face on cinema screens across the world. His roles in von Trier’s The Kingdom, Dogville and Melancholia, as well as in films such as Ronin, Irish filmed King Arthur, Juanita Wilson’s As If I Am Not There (which screened at the JDIFF in 2011) and the recent The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo have cemented his reputation as one of Scandinavia’s best exports.
DIR: Tom Shankland• WRI: • PRO: Michael Casey, Allan Niblo, James Richardson • DOP: Morten Søborg • ED: Tim Murrell • DES: Ashleigh Jeffers • CAST: Stellan Skarsgård, Melissa George, Selma Blair, Ashley Walters, Tom Hardy, Paul Kaye
‘There will be pain.’ What Waz promises, it delivers. Waz is going to be a divisive picture, people will either dismiss it as ‘torture porn’ or look at it for what it is: a smart, well-made entertaining horror-thriller that is at turns harrowing, clever and brutal. Filmed on location in New York and Belfast, location is utilized brilliantly, reflecting the characters’ interior lives – Stellan Skarsgård’s hardboiled, tormented detective, Melissa George’s emotionally scarred rookie and the maniacal glee of Selma Blair perfectly mirror the grainy cityscape.
When the body of a pregnant woman is fished out of a river with the letters ‘Waz’ carved into her stomach, Argo (Skarsgård) and squeamish rookie Westcott (Melissa George) are assigned the case. ‘Waz’ is part of an equation that proves there is no such thing as altruism in nature. The killer is coercing people into torturing their loved ones to death. When Westcott discovers a former case was thrown out of court, she realises that Argo and the killer share a deadly secret.
Waz is the directorial debut of writer Clive Bradley and director Tom Shankland and one of the most interesting and thought-provoking films of the year. Could you butcher a loved one? Selma Blair seethes pure hatred, but Melissa George is unfortunately given very little to do, which is a shame because her character is intriguing. Skarsgård is the real gem of the film and he shines (or bleeds profusely) in the film’s nihilistic denouement.
The film has moderately good direction, excellent camera-work and it will be interesting to see where this director goes next. But be warned, this film is at times excruciating to watch.
Waz works because it seems to be quite straightforward; the killer showing up thirty minutes into the film, the noirish story-specifics which lead you to believe that you know where the writer is taking you only for you to stand on a plot landmine which detonates in your face. A unique indie horror/thriller, if only other horror writers and directors would take note, perhaps we could occasionally be given horror with a mind (and a heart) behind it.