Tag Archives: Max von Sydow

In memorial: Nate’s Top Ten Max Von Sydow Performances

Roger Ebert once referred to Max Von Sydow as a “mighty oak of Swedish cinema” and the same can be said of his career as a whole both in his home country and Hollywood too. Max was an actor of tremendous presence, a noble spirit with the kind of line delivery that was immersive and drew you right into the scene. He has passed away this week at age 90 and will be missed by countless people who loved his work, but he leaves behind a multi decade legacy of brilliant and diverse acting work, and these are my top ten personal favourite of his performances:

10. Blofeld in Irvin Kershner’s Never Say Never Again

Might be controversial to say but Max was the coolest Blofeld in my book. Donald Pleasance and Telly Savalas had a businesslike, robotic vibe to their interpretations but Max gave this mega villain a decidedly sardonic, playful edge. Plus that hair makes him stand out from the classic bald image we’re used to. He isn’t in the film much but his scenes are super fun.

9. Leland Gaunt in Stephen King’s Needful Things

Malevolent, ancient and evil, Gaunt is a demon in human form hellbent on reaping souls. Setting up a curious antique shop in fictional Castle Rock, he goes up against suspicious Sheriff Pangborn (Ed Harris) and seems to have an unnatural knowledge of the town. Von Sydow makes keen, charming and ultimately super creepy work of this guy, one of the most well portrayed King antagonists put to film.

8. Dr. Kynes in David Lynch’s Dune

A longtime resident of the planet Arrakis, Kynes is an intuitive fellow who senses the buried potential within Paul Atreides (Kyle Maclachlan) and admires the resolve and integrity of his father Leto (Jurgen Prochnow). He gets some interesting, atmospheric moments in the film’s trademark voiceovers and makes a magnetic presence.

7. Judge Fargo in Judge Dredd

Fargo is one of the few high ranking judges of mega city who hasn’t been swayed by corruption, and that unconverted resilience is nicely embodied by Max. I know this isn’t the most well organized film and it hasn’t aged all that amazingly but there’s a lot to love, a bunch of dope production design and one hell of a cast, our man included. When he’s banished from the city for helping Dredd, there’s no sight quite as epic as a duster clad Max sauntering out into the desert like some intergalactic gunslinger. Good times.

6. Dr. Paul Novotny in Joseph Ruben’s Dreamscape

This underrated 80’s SciFi fantasy palooza sees clairvoyant Dennis Quaid get recruited by Max’s government researcher to infiltrate people’s dreams and uncover a conspiracy. He’s a good, kind and decent man here who has no idea how far up the chain this pseudoscientific mutiny goes, Max imbues him with a genuine curiosity for his field, an easygoing camaraderie with Quaid and steals the show.

5. Dr. Nahring in Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island

Nahring is one of a few psychiatric professionals who heads up the austere institute that Leonardo DiCaprio’s federal marshal is snooping around in. If you know the twist and remember the dialogue, you get just how ingenious Max’s line delivery is here when he asks Teddy “if you see a monster, you should stop it, no?” It’s a great callback to the end of the film. At one point Teddy berates Nahring for being German because of his experiences during the war and one gets the sense from Max’s performance that he wasn’t on the side of conflict that Teddy assumes, it’s a terrific supporting performance that doesn’t intrude yet speaks volumes.

4. Lamar Burgess in Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report

The slick CEO of a futuristic murder investigation unit, Burgess has everything under control and then some.. until his plan unravels. This is a fantastic performance that follows the Hollywood beats of a hidden antagonist but allows Max to have one final beat to the character that he nails perfectly.

3. Lancaster Merrin in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist

This is one of the films that bridged the gap to Hollywood for him and has since become infamous. Merrin is a world weary, knowledgeable yet reluctant crusader who joins forces with Jason Miller’s Father Karras in doing battle with an ancient entity he encountered in Africa before. For all its razzle dazzle and pop culture iconography, this film has two very centred, humbled and down to earth performances from these two actors.

2. Jakob Bronski in Emotional Arithmetic

This soulful indie drama sees a group of people from various backgrounds gather on Quebec farmland to heal old wounds, resolve traumas from the past and roust the kind of bittersweet situational kerfuffles that only quaint independent stuff like this can brew up. Max’s Jakob is a Holocaust survivor with deep scars that aren’t immediately apparent and has a complicated relationship with Susan Sarandon and Gabriel Byrne’s respective characters. This is a tough film to track down but worth the haul as it showcases an excellent cast in earnest performances.

1. The Tracker in Vincent Ward’s What Dreams May Come

The afterlife holds many mysteries for Robin Williams in this stunning, overlooked classic, some of which are navigated by Max’s tracker, a mysterious being who helps him find his deceased wife in the underworld. There’s more than meets the eye to this character, bestowed with an arc that Von Sydow gives sly, heartfelt talent, his inherently angelic nature just adding to the overall tone.

-Nate Hill

Irvin Kershner’s NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN

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Artwork by Jeffrey Marshall

Frank and Tom are joined with special guest Dave Chantry, to discuss the renegade James Bond film, NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN featuring Sean Connery’s return as James Bond, 007. This is a very lively discussion about the often forgotten and criticized Bond film, that features a stellar cast, amazing production, and behind the scenes talent that is some of the finest of the series.

For your reference: The Battle of the Bonds

John Boorman’s Exorcist II: The Heretic

Calling Exorcist 2: The Heretic a horror movie is a bit of a stretch, but anyways. The only heretics to be found here are the studio heads that green-lit this script and the nimrod who edited it. This is a an embarrassment to the power of the first film and a weird (not in a cool way), hectic, inexplicable piece of wanton disarray. I don’t usually give out and certainly never enjoy these lashings but this one knows good and well what it did and had it coming.

Directed by John Boorman (who also did the solid Deliverance and the masterful Emerald Forest so maybe we shouldn’t fault him entirely here), this sees a now teenage Regan McNeil (a now teenage but still baby faced Linda Blair) afflicted once again by that pesky demon, or sorta kinda. The Vatican wants answers as to what happened to their first two dudes and so they send an investigative priest (Richard Burton) who teams up with Regan and her psychiatrist (Louise Fletcher) to stir some shit up. This all runs parallel to an expansion on Father Merrin’s (Max Von Sydow) exploits in Africa battling the very same demon and I know it’s supposed to all make some sort of intrinsic sense but the thing feels like it was written on an etch-a-sketch and edited with a jackhammer.

So what actually works? Well the film looks great, from Regan’s aggressively postmodern penthouse apartment to the spooky crags and mud huts of Africa. The visual atmosphere is great and permeates everything. And what doesn’t work? Pretty much everything else, really. Blair doesn’t have the same magnetism she had as a kid and both her lines on the page and her delivery feel detached and flat. The great Ennio Morricone takes scoring detail but I’m not sure what he was on that day because what he comes up with here is… I dunno. Where atmospherics should have been employed he’s used a soundboard of wails, howls, hollers, hoots and other nondescript aural diarrhea to the point where it’s laughable and distracting. The hypnotism and African stuff sort of work in isolated fashion but in terms of tying a coherent story together they’re used in a completely nonsensical way and there’s just so many “huh?” moments in the plot. I’m not sure what went wrong here but I’m sure there’s a reasonable story behind the mess, perhaps one more interesting than the actual film itself. Probably, because I feel like doing taxes would be more interesting and less confusing than this thing. Stick to the classic first one or also excellent third instead.

-Nate Hill

William Friedkin’s The Exorcist

I saw William Friedkin’s The Exorcist for the first time the other night and it definitely lived up to its reputation, while also being totally not what I expected in a good way. I think that if you go a long time not experiencing a piece of art that is iconic and referenced everywhere in pop culture you kind of project your own image of what it’s going to be like and just assume, and then when you finally get around to it you’re sort of blindsided by the product itself. That happened here with a horror film where I’d seen so many memes, editorials, parodies, pastiches, reworking and ripoffs that when I finally got around to it I was pleasantly surprised at the result.

The main thing that augmented my expectations was pacing; I always Linda Blair’s Regan was to be possessed right from the get go and to see that famous establishing shot before the credits, then have the story progress from there. The film takes its time building character, that of Regan, her mother (Ellen Burstyn) and Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller), the deeply unsure and fragile priest hired to do the deed. I enjoyed the fact that her mom was a famous actress working on a film and felt some touches of meta there, as well as a spooky prologue set in Africa where we meet Max Von Sydow’s Super Priest Lancaster Merrin.

So, did it live up to the hype of being one of the scariest films of all time? Well… that’s a complicated question and gets to the roots of what irks me about how we view horror films back then and now. Yes, this was a terrifying film and all the recognizable scenes of Blair being possessed still hold potency and crawl along the spine. They’re also placed well enough that you don’t necessarily expect them and as distill more shock. I’m not talking about a cheaply orchestrated jump scare, but simply cutting back on buildup or discernible beats and letting the disturbing imagery seem more organic. The head spinning around is a kicker. Thing is, this film was made in 1973 and there have been a thousand and one horror movies made since then that had this as a barometer for the envelope to push. So.. *back then*, yes, this would have been the scariest shit to grace the screen, but we gotta update our way of thinking and take into account what’s come since, and how our favourites have become dated whether we like it or not. Is it one of the *best* horror films ever made, scare-o-meter aside? There’s certainly a case for that, I found it to be an extremely well crafted, atmospheric, unnerving piece and for one that *was* made back then, definitely scary. I also appreciated the discussions had by characters around the concept of an exorcism and how science relates to theology, bringing it’s central premise into thematic conversation as opposed to simply framework for horror. One thing I was disappointed by though is the lack of that spider crab running down the stairs thing she does that I’ve scene in so many SyFy movie of the week promos. I’m guessing there are different cuts out there but that is a barnstormer of a scare moment and I’m not sure why they wouldn’t include that in every version.

-Nate Hill

An Exorcism in Awesomeness by Kent Hill

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I don’t know what they are putting in the water over there in Germany, but I have of late had the privilege of speaking with some of the country’s brightest indie stars. Starting with Dominik Starck and his action movie man-at-arms, Nico Sentner. Then, I stumble into the path of a couple more revolutionaries and fine gentlemen to boot, Erza Tsegaye and Nicolas Artajo – talking about their little gem of a movie, and as history will tell, the forerunner of a new wave in German horror films . . . SKIN CREEPERS. This country Germany seems to have more than just good beer on tap . . . seems the brew cool movie-makers too.

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It’s the story (partially inspired by true events:  where a Korean family performed an exorcism on a young woman who sadly lost her life) of two unsuccessful filmmakers who want to make a pornographic movie, and things go very, very wrong. See, their lead actress . . . . gets possessed by a demon.

It’s a film,  although shot on a limited budget, that is already being recognized for its stunning visual effects and its old-school practical approach to film-making. Following a successful German theatrical run, the film is now celebrating its international release in the US, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and Ireland on multiple major VOD Platforms, including Amazon Prime and Tubi, among others.

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Filmmaker Ezra Tsegaye, worked previously in commercials as a storyboard artist for Hollywood films such as “THE INTERNATIONAL,” and is also a successful comic strip artist, who was involved in the creation of the first original German superhero comic. This background as a comic book/storyboard artist is mainly responsible for the film’s unique visual style. The picture, produced by media entrepreneur Sebastian Wolf, started the project with the intent to revolutionize German Horror Cinema, putting it back on the map by giving this extraordinary movie the chance to reach the big screen.

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So we chatted about the movie, of course. I heard what I would sound like – if dubbed for German audiences. There was talk of good beer, and a pub crawl in Berlin with the boys. How could this interviewer refuse?

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SKIN CREEPERS, get out there and enjoy it…The Exorcist meets Evil Dead with a sexy twist!

Snow Falling On Cedars

Snow Falling On Cedars is an interesting one, but I can’t say I mean that in much of a good way. I’ve rarely seen a film that focuses so intently on atmosphere, incident and specific isolated scenes and kind of leaves it’s own overarching story in the dust, or rather snow. That’s okay if you’re making a mood piece or deliberately impressionist film that doesn’t need the lucidity of a clear narrative, but that this is not. Its one gorgeous looking film though, shot by Robert Richardson who really earns the Oscar nom, full of looming boreal scapes, whirling blizzards and rustic homesteads. Set in the Pacific Northwest during a particularly tumultuous pair of timelines in the 40’s and 50’s, it sees the plight of a small coastal fishing village when a mariner is found dead, entangled in nets near his own boat. The local Sheriff (Richard Jenkins) discovers this, prompting a trial in which an accused fellow fisherman (Rick Yune) is prosecuted by an annoying shark (James Rebhorn) and defended by a German American (Max Von Sydow). Now, the accused is also part of the Japanese community residing nearby, and it being sometime after WWII, it’s not a very great period of history to be Japanese in the States, casting a dark glow over the trial before it’s even begun. Ethan Hawke plays the reporter with whom the accused’s wife (Yûki Kudô) has a lasting and deep romantic involvement with. Sound complicated? It is, but really shouldn’t be. The film chooses to tell the story in a meandering, out of time nature and as such it’s almost impossible to tell what’s going on at any given time. What’s more, the relation between Hawke and Kudô, although deeply touching and wonderfully acted by both, has little to do with the trial and murder mystery and as a result much of the story feels like a slog through snowbanks with no reward on the other side. Other actors make appearances, like Sam Shepherd as Hawke’s publisher father, James Cromwell as the trial’s overseeing judge, Celia Weston and her deplorable Scandinavian accent, Daniel Von Bargen, Anne Suzuki, Akira Takayama and others but they’re sort of swallowed up by the scattered hollowness of a story that should mean more, and should cut deeper based on the effort put into this production. And what a good looking film, I’ll give it that. Robert Richardson’s cinematography is breathtaking, somehow vast yet contained at the same time as we see life in the northwest unfold, attention to period detail immaculately kept up. The score by James Newton Howard is a swell of orchestral emotion and a strong point too. This film would have been so much more affecting if it spent more quality time on the central relationship between Hawke and Kudô, the latter of which gives the best performance. The matter of Japanese people being carted off to internment camps is handled realistically and gives us some of the film’s strongest scenes, these actors also steal the show with their obvious heartbreak and theft of dignity. But who really cares about the murder trial when there’s so much else going on in the big picture that’s more fascinating? So much time is spent in that dark courtroom discussing details of an event I had no stock in with the film as a whole, and if your narrative has that effect on even just one person, well.. that’s a problem. Perhaps the novel is different but I’m not really sure what they were going for here in the film, from both an editing and story focus standpoint. I left with an admiration for the technique used, the photography and atmosphere achieved is something to be proud of, as is the romantic angle. Everything else left me as cold as that falling snow.

-Nate Hill

At play in the Fields of Cullen: A Look at the Director’s Cut of London Fields by Kent Hill

I must confess I am in the same boat as my learned colleague Mr. (Paul) Rowlands of money-into-light.com, when it comes to an interest in films marked by some form controversy. Well, not solely controversy, but the types of films that have been long-suffering passion projects finally seeing the light of day, or long overdue restorations of genuinely overlooked masterpieces that may or may not have suffered the same fate as the picture that I shall, in these words following, discuss. It is the wretched crime of the industry at large to present grand achievements in aborted states – the director’s vision left on the cutting room floor, or in the parlance of our times, designated to a file on some mass storage device.mathewThe embattled figure in this saga is filmmaker Mathew Cullen and his stunning debut, London Fields. A slick and stylish noir, bombarded by flashing images of humanity’s chaos, swirling around  and serving as the world beyond that which we shall traverse with the movies’ delightful assortment of strange and sympathetic characters. Into the urban sprawl, at the center of this film’s universe, comes the melancholically-serene presence of Samson Young (Billy Bob Thornton), who we learn has traded his own stateside shithole for the shabby chic and eccentrically opulent abode of Mark Asprey – a disembodied Jason Isaacs.static1.squarespace.comBut this is not where our story begins. Our story begins with a murder.

A death that was seen coming by its victim, along with the hook being that the killer remains faceless until the movies’ final moments when we discover exactly who our Keyser Söze is.x1080-38ESo we have Thornton/Young, a man that has to live his stories. Being a natural voyeur, he soon becomes intrigued and infatuated if you will, by the astonishingly sexy and magnetic presence of Nicola Six (Amber Heard), whom I have enjoyed since she appeared in John Carpenter’s last effort, The Ward and again in the truly awesome guilty pleasure that is Drive Angry with the quintessential renaissance man himself, Nicholas Cage.London-Fields-Featured-ImageShe has power both in character and in substance. She is a woman who has flirted with the perilous, courting intrigue, danger, the playful and the despicable. And this it would seem is her last hurrah . Bringing into the final web she will spin the polished bravado of Guy Clinch (Theo James), and the personification of grotty goodness, Keith TalentJim Sturgess taking his Cloud Atlas Scottish football hooligan character to its apex.

 

These crotch-led power-mongers think they have our girl Six clocked and at their mercy. The key portion of that sentence being, ‘think’. Because this is all ruse, all part of Nicola’s game, indeed part of how Nicola (we take from the shards of back story given) has lived out her existence until its brutal, bloody climax. Young/Thornton watches and listens along as Six leads the boys into her little traps, playing each against the other in the midst of their own debauched  and dysfunctional existences – Clinch’s disintegrating family life and Talent’s quest to become an all conquering champion of darts.MV5BZmYyNjAwMjQtNDBiYy00YWI0LWI5OTQtOTJhZDYyNTJlOTI2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUwNzk3NDc@._V1_If it all sounds a bit nutty (wait till you meet Chick Purchase), I say now, don’t be afraid. The juxtaposition of comedy, tragedy, sex, violence, a musical number and the bizarre nature of Nicola’s game is an easy pill to swallow. For the casual multiplex visitor, yeah, maybe not – but this is a picture that had me from start to finish and brought to mind fond memories of the time when it was my privilege to witness another spectacular director’s cut in the form of Wim Wenders’ Until the End of the World – an equally luscious and absurdly-infectious cocktail of cinema.b0be7af53fa5c87a98786b212a5a1f17I have followed the press surrounding London Fields and waited for such an opportunity as I have thus been presented with, which is to experience the film as the director always intended it to be seen.5917e9efb12a157c32b854dbd16ed744912a0557 This being the case, I have in the interim sought out and devoured Martin Amis’ gorgeous darkly comedic, mysterious murder source material and also the theatrical version. So, if these words I write carry any weight at all with you, please believe my sincerity when I urge you, nay, implore you – seek out this, the director’s cut of London Fields. It is a heartbreaking urban-dystopian twisted noir love poem that, thank God, exists for us all to watch, to ponder, to cinematically wolf-down. Bon appétit, dear viewer.London-Fields