Tag Archives: Mads Mikkelsen

Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur

I’ve been singing the praises for Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur for years, but here’s the thing: you simply have to watch the extended director’s cut, it’s a different film entirely than the theatrical. Expanding both on complex moral quandary and lethal, bloody carnage, it allows ideas, expression and extreme violence to play out in a cut free of time and rating constraints, and as such is one of the best sword/battle flicks I’ve ever seen. The main buzz surrounding this one was how much of a departure it is from the usual Arthur lore we’re used to.. darker, grittier, more tied in with Ancient Rome and bereft of any lighthearted fantasy, it may as well be its own thing untethered of any Arthurian scope, because who can really say how it all went down back then anyways. Here Arthur is a restless, stormy Sarmatian knight played by a hot blooded Clive Owen, a fearless, jaded warrior who is steward to a rowdy troop of loyal swordsman forced by the empire to serve out fifteen years of service in exchange for freedom at the end of it all. Each of his troupe is played by a stellar actor, and each blessed with their own distinct, fully formed personality. Headstrong Bors (The always awesome Ray Winstone), dysfunctional Lancelot (Ioan Gryffud), lethal Tristan (Mads Mikkelsen, probably the coolest of the bunch), stalwart Galahad (Hugh Dancy), mischievous Gawain (Joel Edgerton) and strong, silent Dagonet (Ray Stevenson). They’re a wickedly diverse bunch of warriors, lovers, brothers and each has their own carefully carved out view on freedom, the Romans, life on the battlefield and ancestry, just a few of the themes explored deeply by the consistently surprising script. This film is notorious for its portrayal of Keira Knightley’s Guinevere, a bikini clad warrior whose appearance in the third act eclipses what is actually a really well written character, is unfairly panned based on a few brazen costume choices. Arthur and gang are up against a fearsome Saxon army led by Cerdic (stellar Stellan Skarsgard), a bloodthirsty maniac restlessly looking for his equal on the battlefield, which he finds in Arthur once they duke it out. Merlin is a tree dwelling mystic played by an unrecognizable Stephen Dillane, the round table in a dilapidated version of the glory found in books, and the knights resemble rough n’ tumble mercenaries more than the glowing reputation they’re given in classic lore. Sure, it’s a different take, but I for one really like the gritty, hellish aura surrounding the whole thing, it’s a brutal and risky departure from anything close to Disney and I applaud them for it. Better still is the way morality and philosophy are explored through the character’s actions, until we have a clear picture of Arthur as a realistic, hands on hero who isn’t afraid to get violent to prove points. The set pieces and swordplay are breathtaking, from a tense stand-off set on a deadly frozen lake to the final spectacular battle, each knight getting their chance to nail some superb fight choreography and draw gallons of blood. Hans Zimmer provides one of his most surging, palpitating thunderclap original scores, it’s up there with his best work and rides right next to the knights into battle with symphonic glory that just begs for a surround sound system to play on. I think this got so shit on because critics are usually only privy to the theatrical version right out of the gate, and first impressions cement reputation for years to come. Once again, the director’s cut is really the only way to go. It’s bolder, longer, more violent and sensual, and just tells the best version of the film’s story that it can.

-Nate Hill

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story by Ben Cahlamer

War.  Over the course of our history, we justify war to obtain that which we might not have access to, but need to survive.  In the eyes of others, we use war to protect the few resources we have from others. In the end, the more motivated group will overcome the meek.  For those standing up because it is right, it doesn’t mean that we must always bow down to the pressures of the powerful.  Sometimes, we find enough courage and conviction within our own morals to rightfully take back that which has been usurped. This is the basis for Gareth Edwards’ newest, but flawed entry into the Star Wars universe, “Rogue One”.

Word has reached the Rebellion that a cargo pilot defected with a message indicating the presence of a planet-killing weapon being developed by Imperial forces.  Wanting to authenticate the message, Gyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is coaxed into helping the Rebellion.  Joined by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), they ultimately undertake a risky mission to retrieve the plans for this weapon.

The story, written by John Knoll and Gary Whitta (“After Earth”, “The Book of Eli”); screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy (the “Bourne” series)  is fun, but ultimately flawed as it tries to develop new characters while remaining relate able to the existing universe.

It was evident that the intention was to create a dark, espionage-style thriller within two threads:  the first to assemble the team, while the second to actually commit the deed.  The challenge is that the story starts off so slowly and disjointedly that by the time we get to the second, more impressive hour, we simply shouldn’t care.  The story does tie up its own loose ends, but it also creates more problems than it actually solves.

The characters service the script effectively.  However, the majority of the character’s motives were demurred by the action-oriented narrative.  Felicity Jones’ Gyn clashed with Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor.  Although their backgrounds are not similar, they do ultimately share the same path.  It isn’t until the second hour that we see Gyn become a leader.  Mads Mikkelson’s Galen was sharp; his purpose clear and he was able to parlay with Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic:  their egos each got the better of them, but their paths and functions were also very clear.  Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Imwe is a fun character, his presence a welcome, if sometimes irritating diversion while Jiang Wen’s Bazel Malbus looked stellar on the screen, but his purpose was ill-defined.  Although he grew the most and had the most to lose, Riz Ahmed’s Bodhi Rook was the most essential of the supporting characters.  Forest Whitaker always looks great on screen, however here his character only serves as a bridge and ultimately, an ineffective bridge between the first and second acts, and while the levity was welcome, Alan Tudyk’s K2SO was a bit over the top becoming repetitive, even in the third act.

Fortunately, the wizards behind the camera truly work their wonders in most quarters.  Costume Designers David Crossman and Glyn Dillon effectively bring us back into the Star Wars universe as does Doug Chaing and Neil Lamont’s stellar production design.

From the stages of Pinewood Studios outside London to multiple locations spanning Iceland, Maldives and Jordan, cinematographer Greig Fraser (“Zero Dark Thirty”, “Foxcatcher”, “Lion”) really stood up to the challenges in front of him, giving the film the visual grittiness it needed while conveying the timeless sense of the space battles that have come to be a trademark of the Star Wars universe.  In a key scene, Fraser’s use of lighting serves to throw off the viewer just enough to allow the special effects technicians to do their magic making the scene that much more effective.

Continuing in the grand tradition of delivering a visual impact, Industrial Light & Magic’s work on “Rogue One” is, without exception, the highlight of the movie.  From traditional model effects work to CGI landscapes, John Knoll, who also served as one of the film’s executive producers, was up to the task.  Without going into too much detail, he and the talented folks at Scanline, Hybride, The Third Floor and Disney Research are to be commended in the look and feel of the movie.

Michael Giacchino provided a more militaristic score, using some of John Williams’ existing themes while largely creating new music for this adventure, which works effectively.

As brilliant as the technicians behind the scenes were, editorially, the pacing and tone of the movie fell flat.  It took no less than three credited editors, John Gilroy, Colin Goudie and Jabez Olssen to bring the full narrative into its final form.  In a slightly lesser role, Stuart Baird was brought in to massage it even further.  Where the script narratively fumbled, the editing could not recover it fully, washing out characters and moments.

“Rogue One” brings together two separate parts of the Star Wars universe in an interesting and diverse way.  Its darker tone is welcome however the jumbled narrative and editing bring it crashing down.  Despite it being fun, its flaws are too numerous.  It is Recommended.

Ben Cahlamer, an aspiring film critic, is a new contributor to podcasting them softly.  Although he spends his time helping hotels to price their rooms, he appreciates the finer nuances of films.  He has been an avid Star Wars fan since he was born, having seen Return of the Jedi on the big screen three times in 1983 and continues to look forward to the future.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: A Review by Kent Hill

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So another December has come and with it comes another Star Wars movie. The reviews begin. Kevin Smith raves about it, calling it Empire Strikes Back great. In his brief thoughts following the premiere which he attended, Smith makes mention of what are really the highlights. This is an excellent chapter in the Star Wars saga. There are great tie-ins which link this film to those that have come before. Vader is badass in this movie and then there is the ending . . . that ending.

Now, unlike the case of The Force Awakens, this film has not enjoyed a triumphant reception. Those that have distaste for it are talking sooner rather than later. Before seeing the film today, I took note of some of the positive/negative stances. One thing I marked was a comment regarding the resurrection of a certain character from the original trilogy. I will not spoil this for anyone, but the review to which I refer, made the statement that the arrival of this character on screen (with the help of effects, cause he bought the farm a while ago) was something that took them out of the movie. I am going to take arms against this statement (which you may read more about if you wish here: http://geektyrant.com/news/review-disney-and-lucasfilm-play-it-safe-with-rogue-one-a-star-wars-story). Me personally, and I am referring to the pair of instances which the technology is used in the film, I feel this is one of the better examples of this type of effect used thus far in movies and remind the learned gentlemen for the prosecution of the creepy, expressionless faux-young Jeff Bridges in the lamentable Tron sequel as a better example of something that disconnects one from a film.

Still, what about the film itself? Is it Empire Strikes Good? I read Harry Knowles’ review this morning too. He though, has a tendency to gush, going so far as to list the things that he liked best. You need to be wary when film writers take such actions. The reason being? There was stuff they didn’t like in between those things they did.

Rogue One is the story of the story before the Star Wars we all grew up with – and I refer to those of us who grew up before they started using the “Episode” system. It finds the brains behind that moon that is no moon but a space station, living out his life in peace and harmony with his family. Then the empire shows up and ruins everything, as it is their want to do. From this pastoral opening we following our heroine Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) as she is recruited by the rebels (they are rebels aren’t they?) to track down Forest Whitaker, because rumour has it, that he has received word from Jyn’s dad, Mads Mikkelsen, about a super-weapon the empire is about to unleash.

So the Star Wars story moves along, and at times it is a slow boil. There is a good comradery among the cast, along with levity and heavy-handedness in equal measure. There are also lots of droids and aliens, which are always fun to hang out with in a time of great tyranny. This film paints the best portrait of the galaxy far, far away in the wake of the rise of the empire as we know it. It’s a grimy hit-run-hide type of universe, where heroes are few and all hope seems lost.

But wait, maybe not. Though the rebellion has its own dark undercurrent of distrust and personal agenda, we find out (what those of us who are children of Star Wars already know) there is a weakness to this battle station. It soon falls to the good guys to decide what they are going to do with this intel.

When faced with a planet killer, some guys run and some guys stay. The guys that stay join with our ragtag band of heroes on their veritable suicide mission. Their objective: to retrieve the plans of the Death Star in order to exploit the flaw in its design.

This is when Rogue One finds its wings, and all of a sudden I found myself in a film that felt more like a Star Wars movie than The Force Awakens did.

The final act of the film is bold, brilliant. At one point I think I heard Sam Elliot’s voice from The Big Lebowski in my head saying: “I didn’t like seeing Donnie go.” I was looking for shots from the trailers that I liked, but I found them to be absent from school today. I thought it was a good ending which brought to mind the old chestnut: those who live by the sword shall die by the sword. I also read in those reviews from earlier today, that the characters were thinly drawn. This would imply they are like most characters in modern movies, which is to say you don’t really give a shit whether they live or die. But I cared, not for all concerned, but for some. When things finally went south, I can genuinely say I was moved by their passing.

So, is Vader badass? Yes. That’s all I’m going to say on that score.

The film looks beautiful, though please again be wary, especially when reviewers make mention of this early in their critique. Praise for the photography and locations are often code for: it looked good, but that’s all it did.

The score by Giacchino is sombre and at times melancholic, but it lifts, and there is a nice peppering of Williams which will make you smile as ever.

And thus we come to that ending. Go see it. Go see it. The best thing about the ending is you can go home and watch the story continue, unlike last year’s Star Wars where we’ll have to wait a while yet to find out what Luke is going to say, or not say, or just keep on glaring, or fart , or something like that.

Did this dude in the audience like Rogue One? He did, he did indeed. He will be going again, that is a given. The cast and crew, all involved, have made a good Star Wars movie. It’s not Empire Strikes Good, but filmmaker Mike Mendez (Big Ass Spider, Don’t Kill It), whom I interviewed recently, said it best. During our chat we talked about Spielberg and Mike’s love of Raiders of the Lost Ark. He (Mike) considers this the perfect film. He caught lightning in a bottle, and I’m paraphrasing Mike here, but Mike went on to say that as talented as Spielberg is, he doubts he could ever duplicate something like Raiders. The same could be said of this, the third coming of Star Wars. I watched it begin in the 70’s, I was there for explosive hype of The Phantom Menace. I was there last year when the force decided to wake up again.

My point is this. The lightning has already been caught. It was captured a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. They will never be able to recapture that lightning, but so far the Star Wars we are getting is calling down the thunder and Rogue One roars across the sky. It reminds us, yet again, of that brilliant lightning that brightened our world a long time ago…

GO SEE IT!

CASINO ROYALE – A Review by Frank Mengarelli

CASINO ROYALE created a new dawn in film. Not only was it a swift and needed step away from the loathsome DIE ANOTHER DAY, it also created a template on how to not only reboot a mainstay franchise, but do it with such gravitas and clarity that the franchise itself feels anew and reinvigorated.

Daniel Craig was more or less unknown to the masses. He had appeared in LAYER CAKE, Sam Mendes’ ROAD TO PERDITION, and a handful of small, independent European films. Craig quickly proved his naysayers wrong (including me, who was a staunch lobbyist for Clive Owen).

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Craig’s blonde hair and blue eyes may not have been akin to what James Bond is supposed to look like, but his swagger, attitude, and brutish demeanor brought absolute justice to the biggest standing franchise in film history.

While the film was updated to the current digital age, and reflecting our current pop culture obsession with the addition of Texas Hold’em, the film remained grounded in it’s original source material. Validating every word that Ian Flemming wrote in his 1953 novel.

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While now, the Texas Hold’em arc may seem silly considering the fad has long been removed from ESPN and the mainstream of American culture; essentially that’s what a Bond film is. It had always been a reflection of our present day culture.

Enter into the fold Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffery Wright, Eva Green, Giancarlo Giannini, and Jesper Christensen; the film stayed true to casting an exotic array of worldly cinematic actors, while retaining Judi Dench’s M, GoldenEye’s Martin Campbell and seminal Bond scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade – the film remained grounded within the cinematic world of James Bond whilst taking the franchise in a much needed and welcomed new direction.

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Nicolas Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising: A Review by Nate Hill 

I would hazard a statement and say that Valhalla Rising is Nicolas Winding Refn’s most inaccessible film, to wider audiences. Despite the bleak, impenetrable horror of Fear X and the repulsive, Freudian filth of Only God Forgives, there’s just something so bare and primordial about Valhalla, a skeletal narrative that serves as a haunted shell for a story that is essentially the ‘anti story’, an acrid, backwards battle poem existing in a vacuum of space where genre tropes should be at play, and are mournfully absent. A lot of films set in ancient times just feel the need to give the proceedings a modern flourish, adding humour, bravery and many elements we identify with and are used to seeing. The reality is those times were probably not like that at all, and resembled a level of anthropological alienation that would confuse us. Refn casts exactly that kind of cloak over his film here, bringing us a dark, hollow world where primitive despair swirls about in the mists of the British Isles and the ocean far beyond. Refn is first and foremost concerned with his protagonists, striving to make them unique and challenging. The meek, confused griever playing detective (John Turturro in Fear X), the lonely, pent up vigilante (Ryan Gosling in Drive) and the bawdy, childish, anarchic brawling bull in a China shop (Tom Hardy in Bronson) were endlessly fascinating, but here he takes it a step further into the overgrown netherworld of the human psyhe. His outlet of exploration is a mute, feral Scandinavian warrior, simply called One Eye (Mads Mikkelsen), who is ready to inflict throat ripping, bone snapping carnage at the drop of a hat. This isn’t someone who kills for his own gain or goals though, and it’s in that characteristic that One Eye is different from every other lead in Refn’s tales. All the rest were forceful, extremely aware beings who were out to achieve clear cut goals, even if one of them was just to create as much self destructive chaos as possible. One Eye is a slave, someone’s property, and lays down the carnage hammer only when instructed to by his Saxon owners. This unfolds in a jarring opening act that you’ll need a strong stomach to fight through. The violence is scarily realistic and lands with the same sickening thud that skulls make when Mikkelsen bashes them on the jagged outcroppings of rocks which populate this austere terrain. As two warring clans squabble about who deserves sovereignty over One Eye’s terrifying talents, circumstances lead to his departure from the moors of Britain, on a boat captained by a Scottish warlord (the exceptional Gary Lewis) and with the companionship of a mysterious young boy (Maarten Stevenson). The boat drifts in a lilting trance for miles on end, seemingly headed nowhere, and it’s here that Refn let’s both his characters and audience off the leash and sends us headlong into the crushing blackness of a narrative that is maddeningly impossible to decipher. To try and think it out is to fail right off the bat; One must let this type of story wash over you and discern it’s meaning using the unconscious modes of thought that human beings have sadly forgotten amidst a flurry of science, reason and technology. The voyage across this sea is one out of time, out of mind and beyond rationality, and the land that lays at the far end of the crimson sunrise is one even more foreboding and secretive than the rocks they left behind. Encounters with a strange tribe, moody passages of time where One Eye seems to drift between dimensions of thought and animalistic contemplation, dimly perceived exchanges of dialogue that seem lost and misplaced among the pressing gloom, it all flows by like the fog on the water, making sense as an element existing in it’s place in nature, but unable to be reconciled by our minds, which always need to have the safety net of a “why” to break the great fall of the unknown. Sometimes there’s no explaining, no categorizing, because to do so is arrogant. Sometimes it’s just naked perception and acceptance, if you can bring yourself to that place. Refn can, and what’s more, he can create such feelings, which is what makes him so important as an artist. He understands the uncharted places on the territory of human experience, waiting to be mapped out like the strange new world One Eye and the boy visit, a world which may as well be a different planet to their eyes. It’s in this inaccessibility that he gives us what, although is certainly not his most enjoyable or commercially viable film, is definitely the one that says the most, if you possess and are willing to use the tools necessary to experience it. Difficult. Psychological. Troubling. Hypnotic. Beautiful. Masterpiece.