Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Listomania: Thomas' April 2012 Viewings

My movie viewing habits go one of two ways: Either I am watching a whole bunch of movies that don't have a single thing in common or I binge on a favorite type of movie, waking up in the morning with foreign accents sloshing around in my brain like beer in a college student's guts. Australian cinema has been a drug of choice, but they, before the advent of the internet(s), were hard to come by. Even harder for a monolingual American to track down are films from Sweden and The Netherlands. Gud förbjude you actually want to see something not designed for export out of Scandinavia. If they in fact are exported out, they will never see the light of day here in the US, instead Hollywood buys the rights to remake the film or just rips it off. How may people in a US multiplex are going to know anyway? Hollywood has done a great job of building a wall to keep out those damn cinematic immigrants who are stealing our entertainment jobs! Sadly it's not just our milk that's homogenized. Ok, rant over. Here's a few of the Swedish films that I've been obsessing over, and so as not to bludgeon you like a viking raider with Nordic cinema, I've thrown in some others as well.

ROSEANNA (1993): Superb third entry in a series of six Swedish made for TV movies based on Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s famous Martin Beck novels, with Gösta Ekman as Beck. When a woman’s body is fished out of the river without a single clue, Martin Beck is assigned to the case. Since the case is proving especially difficult, the insufferable Gunvald (Rolf Lassgård, flawlessly cast) is transferred over to assist in setting a trap for the killer. I know that was probably the most generic Leonard Maltin-ish plot synopsis ever, but it’s almost impossible to synopsize the twisting plot and character interplay of a good Beck movie. Not only that, but if you are the least bit interested in the genre, I don’t want to give away any spoilers. Ekman has a good take on Beck, but Lassgård steals the movie as Gunvald and in spite of the TV pedigree and a few flatly directed family scenes, the cinematography verges on giallo-esque at times and the suspense is wound nice and tight. Some folks have complained about the American-style ending where everything is wrapped up and not left open, as the Swede’s seem to love, but it’s probably the only thing that rings as Americanized. As Will mentioned via e-mail, if it had been an American film, there would have been a subplot about conflict at home over his devotion to the job and have some loud shouting matches about procedure between Beck and Gunvald. Meh, leave that for the new kids like Kjell Sundvall.



ZERO TOLERANCE (1999): So, let me get this straight. You can work on films like ANIMAL PROTECTOR (1988) and WAR DOG (1987), both of which I really enjoy, and ten years later someone will hand you a check to make a big, splashy, slick police thriller that three years later is ripped off by Hollywood for the new version of THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2002)? Goddamn, only in Sweden! Anders Nilsson, you have come a long way, baby. Gotthenburg cop Johan Falk (Jakob Eklund) attempts to foil what appears to be a simple jewelry store robbery on Christmas Eve. The robbery turns into a bloodbath and after finally tracking down the surviving robber, the tables are turned and Johan Falk finds himself being hunted. The cops want to make an example of him for his alleged abuse of power and the criminal underworld has a bounty on his head. Mad as hell, but cool as a gurka, Falk must use his wits and police training to survive and bring in the killer. Yeah, nothing totally earthshakingly original in the plot department, but the execution is dead on target with Eklund so well cast that he went on to play the character in no less than eight sequels from 2001 to 2009 and in a TV series starting this year. Also well cast is Peter Andersson as Falk’s nemesis Leo Gaut. Andersson, who you may remember from the original GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO series (that I still haven’t gotten around to watching), plays a conniving criminal in silk, but shows a range of emotion and subtlety that isn’t usually required for these kinds of roles. Certainly not if it was produced in the US. Damn Anders, look at you go. Sadly, while the rest of the planet appears to be hooked on Falk, it still hasn't seen the light of day here in the US, in spite of the demand being high enough for people to watch it off of YouTube in it's entirety. Followed by two outstanding sequels and two series' of six films each.
The German dubbed trailer:


THE HUNTERS (1996): Slick and technically solid Swedish thriller from director Kjell Sundvall, about a Stockholm cop, Erik Bäckström (Rolf Lassgard), who, after recovering from being shot during a robbery, decides to move back to his rural home town and live with his brother whose life hasn’t gone so well. Arriving in the middle of a years-long wave of organized reindeer poaching, he finds out quickly that poaching can turn to murder and in a town where everyone is related, you can’t even trust the cops. The acting is great, particularly Lassgard, and the production values are high, but in the end, the script goes exactly where you think it will, much like a Hollywood film. You find out who the poachers are in the first 15 minutes and when they start feeling the pressure, everyone does exactly what you think they will, straight through to the end. It’s a little bit of a letdown considering the fine pedigree of Swedish crime thrillers, but this is considered a classic by many and is extremely popular in Sweden, so perhaps your mileage may vary.

THE HUNTERS 2 (2011): aka FALSE TRAIL. Looking every day of the 15 years that have passed, Erik Bäckström (Rolf Lassgard), is given a no choice by his CO to head out to his small home town once again to help with a missing persons investigation that turns out to be a gristly murder of a young woman. Could one of the local police be involved? It’s a Swedish thriller, so you know what the answer to that is. While the first film played with familiar American-style back-woods thriller elements, this sequel steers straight in Martin Beck / Kurt Wallander territory with excellent results aside from some rather clunky ties to the original (so the brother who couldn’t get laid with a sack of coke and a fistful of hundreds had a kid that nobody knew about in the original film? Whaaaa?). It feels as if a script with a similar setting was rewritten to link the two films, and it may have been, but fortunately it’s just a few scenes, mostly in the beginning. It still feels a bit American in spots with lots of emotion running rampant, explosive confrontations, hot button issues, a clumsy numeral instead of a new title (a Swedish film, with a numbered sequel?) and a poster that implies nothing but a rehash with more hunters. Aside from those minor gripes, it’s a gripping, more traditional Swedish thriller with fantastic cinematography and a subtle score that really ratchets up the tension without being overbearing.

THE ST. PAULI HOURLY HOTEL (1970): Rolf Olsen’s sleazy police thriller centered around a murder in a hotel for hookers. Hamburg police commissioner Canisius (Curd Jürgens) is forced to work the streets of St. Pauli due to a shortage of beat cops and finds himself investigating a stabbing. Of course, the whole pretension of this being a police thriller revolves around the sleazy activities of the hotel patrons. Strung out junkies, brawling queers, nude voyeurs, cheating spouses, thieving hookers, costume fetishes, drunken businessmen, anal deskclerks and even the most laughable squad-car crash ever committed to celluloid. Oh, and let’s not forget the completely gratuitous subplot about the commissioner’s son requiring a heart operation after getting beat up by the cops at a political demonstration. Clearly this was added because someone had some stock surgery footage lying around and felt there just wasn’t enough exploitation value in the film already. Erwin Halletz provides the bizarrely cheery Henry Mancini-esque score, which kind of makes it feel like an R-rated ‘70s TV show. Not the brilliantly nasty gut-punch that Olsen’s masterpiece BLOODY FRIDAY (1972) provided only a few years later, but definitely entertaining, if you are in the right frame of mind.



HOLLYWOOD BABYLON (1971): Kenneth Anger’s legendary book of half-truths is adapted into a soft-core pseudo-documentary during the decade in which the book was pulled by the publisher. Compromised of at least 50% public domain newsreel footage and silent movie clips, with at most 50% fumbling and silly reenactments, this is something that you will either find hilarious or boring. The monotone narration will take you back to the days of grade-school science films, but on the other hand you do have Uschi Digard playing Marlene Detrich and Marland Proctor as silent film star Wally Reid! Fortunately only one of them gets naked. From Fatty Arbuckle’s alleged accidental homicide, Wally Reid’s drunken parties, Marlene Detrich’s lesbian affairs, Rudolph Valentino’s voyeurism, Charlie Chaplin’s penchant for under-age girls, and so on, it’s minorly amusing, but could have been so much better by losing the “documentary” angle and simply making a full-blown softcore anthology.

CORMAN’S WORLD (2011): Probably the most feather-weight, uninformative modern documentary I’ve ever seen. If you’ve never seen a Roger Corman film and only know who he is because Quentin Tarantino said he was awesome, this is for you! Several big names are interviewed and they all say the same thing: "Roger gave me my first job, I owe everything to Roger, thank you Roger". Very true and quite remarkable, but uhhhh... yeah, we knew that coming in. Plus, for some reason anybody who makes a documentary or audio commentary for anything made pre-1990, Eli Roth turns up to babble pointlessly about how great whatever the thing is that was made before his birth that he has no insight into. If you really want to see a docu on Corman, watch MACHETTE MAIDENS UNLEASHED (2010). It may not reach the dizzying heights of awesomeness that Mark Hartley achieved with NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD (2008), and it really only covers his Philippine co-productions, but you will get far more out of it than this wannabe VH1 special.

PRISONER OF RIO (1988): Decidedly one-sided, highly fictionalized account of the kidnapping of Ronnie Biggs, England’s most famous train robber, or to be honest, England’s most famous criminal outside of Jack the Ripper. The funny thing of it is, Biggs had an incredibly small role in the 1963 crime and wasn’t even part of the actual robbery, but that fact as well as many others are swiftly cast aside in this lightweight, but thoroughly entertaining thriller. Polish filmmaker Lech Majewski and Biggs himself, take the bullet points of Biggs’ life after moving from Australia to Brazil in 1970 and lightly scramble them, garnish with cheese and serve them up in the context of the 1981 kidnapping attempt by the British government. In a nutshell, the head of a secret section of the British government, Commissioner Ingram (Desmond Llewelyn) gets a wild hair to finally put The Crown's biggest embarrassment behind bars. The plan? Officer Jack McFarland (Steven Berkoff, in an amalgamation of two real life characters), posing as a reporter with the help of Ingram’s son Clive Ingram (Peter Firth), will lure Biggs (Paul Freeman) on to a British Navy ship as a publicity stunt by offering him a massive wad of cash. Of course Biggs thinks this is an incredibly stupid idea. This leaves McFarland and Ingram to hatch a plot to have him kidnapped by some local thugs, and hold him in an unused mansion of a local crime lord until they can smuggle him aboard the ship.
In spite of the fact that the plot is a pretty loose recounting of real events, the cast is nothing short of superb with Freeman being surprisingly good at portraying the freewheeling, gregarious Biggs and Florinda Bolkan even shows up as Stella (or in real life, Raimunda de Castro) the mother of Ronnie's Rio-born son Michael. Majewski, who co-wrote the scrip with Biggs, uses some great camera work without being overly-expressionistic to evoke a sense of paranoia and tension in some scenes, but gets a little carried away with long scenes of Rio's carnival nightlife in others. On the one hand, I would have loved to see more of Biggs’ history included (such as his collaboration with the Sex Pistols in the same year) and maybe even a more factual account, but on the other hand, what you have is a solidly entertaining, well made movie with a great cast. Also, you gotta love Biggs’ cameo, shamelessly mugging, during the beginning of the movie.



Moments of Clarity:

1 Reactions:

  1. Hey chief. I hear ya about the "lighter" quality of CORMAN'S WORLD, though I certainly thought it had its share of informative moments. True, for anyone who's been a genre fan for a while and who's been wondering where the hell that lifetime achievement Oscar was for the past two decades, then sure a lot of it is well-traveled ground. But just as I was when SPINETINGLER: THE WILLIAM CASTLE STORY came out (full with just as many familiar anecdotes for any relatively well-versed cinephile), I'm glad this doc exists as it will serve to inform the uninformed as to Corman's legacy. Even for me, there were a few flicks in there that I still haven't caught up with that I duly wrote down on the to-see list. And come on, Jack Nicholson laughing in Corman's face about missing out on EASY RIDER and then crying a few moments later? Tell me that wasn't worth the price of a view.

    Although I'm right there with you on Roth. Seriously, you cut to Mary Woronov - who actually worked under the Corman banner numerous times - ONCE and use THREE Roth sound bytes? BLARRRRRRGGGGGHHHHH.

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