Tag Archives: stellan skarsgard

Bob Rafelson’s No Good Deed

It’s kind of rare for rambunctious actors like Samuel L. Jackson and Milla Jovovich to sit still for something as dramatic and dialogue heavy as Bob Rafelson’s No Good Deed, but it’s nice to see. This is a thriller of sorts, but it’s more low key than that and ends up being a chamber piece about two characters getting to know each other that just happens to take place against a criminal backdrop. Jackson plays a police detective on a routine investigation who turns up at the wrong place at the wrong time and gets drawn into a weird bunch of felons all hiding out and planning a bank job. Stellan Skarsgard is Tyrone, their volatile, violent leader, Jovovich is his quiet but intuitive and underestimated girlfriend, left alone to watch Jackson, now their hostage. This leaves acres of script space for Milla and Samuel to play, manipulate each other, bicker, banter, become close and twist the situation to both their ends while gradually catching feels for each other. It’s interesting that Rafelson casts these two because they’re usually to be found in action heavy stuff, shooting guns, swinging swords and tasked with stylized dialogue. Here they are laid back, oddly but nicely paired and the most quiet I’ve ever seen them, and it… kind of works. Skarsgard is mean and nasty, which he’s always been great at, journeyman oddball Doug Hutchison plays another lowlife in their gang, while Joss Ackland and Grace ‘Sarah Palmer’ Zabriskie play the senior faction of the crew, a strange husband wife duo who can still wield a shotgun when the situation calls for it. This is based on a Dashiell Hammett story which probably means it was sitting in someone’s desk drawer for decades before being found and reworked for this century. Rafelson gives it the pacing of something by Elmore Leonard and eccentricities to spare. It’s not a super memorable thing or a great film by any standards but works well enough as a sleepy, romantic crime thriller. Oh yeah, this is the legendary Rafelson’s final feature film before apparent retirement, so it’s worth checking out for that reason too.

-Nate Hill

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David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

If you think about it, the source material for a story like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is the perfect kind of thing for director David Fincher to have a whack at. It’s dark, kinky, and riddled with detailed clues, any of which could spell survival or a scary end for the two protagonists, and there’s an overall misanthropic edge as well. Not to say that Fincher deliberately picks dark, fucked up projects in his work, but there’s a definite gravitation towards the macabre, he has an eye for it. I love this film a lot, it’s among my favourites in his stable and I think he improved on not only the book by Stieg Larsson, but also made a better film version than the first adaptation. The original was serviceable but in a mystery like this I feel like atmosphere is key, and Fincher provides enough to get lost in. This is a story spanning decades, outlining years of dark deeds and unearthing secrets buried within secrets and as such it should feel eerie, ambient, be lit in ways that evoke the passage of time and have a soundscape that not only freaks you out but guides your focus and has you searching for clues right alongside the heroes. I feel like he definitely has those boxes solidly checked off.

Rooney Mara makes a more detached, colder Lisbeth Salander than Noomi Rapace’s hot blooded take and you could argue all night who was better in the role, but I don’t think that’s really the point. What matters is Mara is a fantastic Lisbeth, emotionally complex, seemingly shut off yet injecting pockets of warmth in where you least expect it and losing none of the caged animal or ruthless survival instinct that is so important to the character. Daniel Craig has the perfect jaded half smirk to play a guy that enters the story disgraced and surrounded by scandal, I think he rocks his role too and the chemistry between both is as tangible as the spooky Swedish ambience that Fincher turns them loose in. There’s a killer out there, one who has been operating with relative impunity for many years and right under the nose of the spectacularly dysfunctional Vanger family, whose industrialist patriarch (Christopher Plummer, excellent) enlists Craig’s help in finding the truth. His daughter went missing from their secluded island home some thirty years before as we see in dreamy flashbacks where Julian Sands steps in for Plummer. Craig’s Mikael and Mara’s Lisbeth are a pair of introverted workaholics who both come from rocky pasts and understand the kind of risk involved with this type of work, but neither are prepared for the brand of sick horrors that revolve around this mystery. Fincher carefully casts the film with impressive talent including Joely Richardson, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Yorick van Wageningen, Goran Visnjic, Donald Sumpter, Embeth Davidzt, Alan Dale, Geraldine James and scene stealer Stellan Skarsgard as another key member of the Vanger family.

One of the most effective aspects of the film is the original score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, a subtle atmospheric composition that brings on feelings of dread, unseen danger and anticipatory anxiety wonderfully. As Craig’s car snakes along the long driveway of Plummer’s extravagant yet isolated mansion, a strange warble of tubular bell style music fills the snowy air, giving off incredibly creepy vibes and in turn giving me chills every time. Fincher cranks up the dial on violence and sex about as far as one could in a Hollywood film and as such you get some deeply disturbing scenes to sit through, especially involving Lisbeth’s deranged legal guardian, who really made me question the foster system in Sweden. None of it is glorified though and all serves to tell this dark story in the most affecting way. There’s a shadowy blanket over the film, everything seems frosty and frigid thanks to the cinematography from Jeff Cronenworth, as if there’s some spell of dark magic laying over the land and protecting those hiding within it as Lisbeth and Mikael race to find them. This is a perfect tale to get transported away by, a nightmarish yet strangely picturesque mystery to get lost in like a snowy night, until you arrive at the wrong doorstep alongside our heroes and then the real thrills begin. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Peter Antonijevic’s Savior

Savior is not an easy film to watch. At times it’s downright excruciating. But it’s also beautiful, and takes its subject matter very, very seriously, with not a cliche in sight for the entire duration, one of the reasons it’s my favourite war film. Dennis Quaid is mostly known for the charming, roguish way he has about him and that unmistakable mile wide grin, but here he drops all of that for a solemn, tortured turn that leaves your heart in a vice grip and your hands gripping the chair. He plays plays a military man forced to go mercenary in the French foreign legion after his wife (Nastassja Kinski) and young son are murdered in a radical terrorist bombing. His knee-jerk reaction is to walk down the street to the nearest mosque and shoot everyone in the place to death, so naturally he kind of has to lay low after. Fate finds him working freelance in the horrors of the Serbian Bosnian war circa mid nineties, and it’s there the film becomes a deep, challenging, distressing but necessary portrait of the kind of chaos, both physical and psychological, that war leaves in its wake. Tasked with transporting a Bosnian girl (Natasa Ninkovic) who was impregnated by a man on the other side of the conflict and has now been shunned, he’s faced with a shot at doing something kind to combat the tide of horror and perhaps find his retribution. In a time of such rampant, normalized genocide, he takes a stand for one mother and her child, trying to get them safely to the UN and find a little solace for himself while he’s at it. It’s an interesting character and Quaid plays him brilliantly but close to the chest. Early on we see him absentmindedly gun down a young boy herding goats, a harsh and seemingly inexplicable action. Later on he defends innocents against slaughter, but he’s not a hero so much as he is a malleable, realistic human being who makes choices just like anyone, and war sometimes brings out extremes in people that go both ways. This is unlike any other war film; there are no orchestral heroics, no ponderous meandering, no large scale epic battles to flash the budget. This is the frank, blunt force trauma vision of the genre, and Quaid is the perfect haunted, bitter hearted antihero to populate it and find the dormant humanity residing in himself even in a region that has so badly lost its way. Genocide is depicted later on in the film and it’s a fucking harrowing thing to witness, the perpetrators matter of factly bludgeoning villagers to death along a river, the victims relegated to a resolute shell shock, it’s nothing like usual melodrama employed in these scenes elsewhere. Stellan Skarsgard makes a quick and welcome appearance as his partner and fellow mercenary who himself has had just about all he can take of war, but it’s Quaid and Ninkovic’s show mostly and they’re captivating. The Bosnian war isn’t one you hear about often in films but it was one of the worst, and the fact that director Peter Antonijevic was a real life political prisoner during this time gives it all an eerily authentic edge. Not a film you hear about very often when discussing war in cinema, but one of the very best you’ll find.

-Nate Hill

The Railway Man

It takes more effort to convincingly tell a story about reconciliation than it does one about revenge, as I found with The Railway Man, a gripping study of post traumatic stress disorder, the horrors of war and the scars they burn into people, often having lasting effects years later. Colin Firth plays real life WWII veteran Eric, who was captured by the Japanese along with his regiment and held as prisoner of war for some years in a hellish POW camp. His fixation and uncanny knowledge of railway systems all over the world unfortunately is misunderstood by the Japanese, resulting in brutal torture and interrogation which goes on for months, and when the war is over and they are released, turns him into a broken, haunted man. He eventually meets, falls in love with and marries Patti (Nicole Kidman), but the time spent in that camp has left wounds that seemingly will never heal, and he finds it hard to cope. His friend and fellow veteran Finley (Stellan Skarsgard) complicates matters when he discovers that one of the Japanese officials responsible for his treatment is still out there somewhere, and can be located. It’s a fascinating situation, for the man (Hiroyuki Sanada, full of haunting complexity) has changed and bears scars of his own in ways that Eric could not imagine before coming face to face with him. Their meeting and correspondence raised many questions about the nature of war and what it brings out in a person versus how time changes ones feelings, perhaps heals some wounds and shifts perspectives greatly. Director Jonathan Teplitzky tackles the story in a straightforward, traditionalist manner, letting the emotional beats speak for themselves, keeping the camera and editing mellow to allow the actors to organically perform. Firth is a brilliant actor who too often get me stuck in syrupy roles, he shines here especially well when he’s faced with the darkness of memory and we see exactly that reflected in his eyes. Sanada has the toughest role but lands it squarely, never cloying or reaching for emotional straws but rather letting the anguish build to a tipping point and than breaking down naturally in what has to be the film’s best, most honestly realistic scene. Kidman radiates compassion and is around for less of the story but still says a lot with her screen time and does excellent work. Kind of an under seen gem, this floated by off the radar back in 2014 but it’s rich, well told drama with three brave, finely tuned central performances.

-Nate Hill

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again is a blast of serotonin in cinematic form, a pure ‘happy’ movie that may be even more fun than the first. I’ll level with you though: to enjoy it you’ll need to a) love the music of Abba, and b) not be one of those stiffly stiffersons who puckers their sphincter at the very mention of the word ‘musical.’ Both those boxes are heartily checked off for me, so it’s nothing but a glowing review on this end. Sunny Mediterranean skies, an unbelievable all star cast clearly having some of the most fun of their careers, all the glorious Abba music you want and a heartbreaking poignancy that both blindsides you and wasn’t quite all the way there the first time around, what’s not to love? Sure, it’s gimmicky, ditzy, silly beyond compare, but like Mrs. Mia Wallace would say, don’t be a 🔲. Staged as both sequel and prequel, this one zooms back to the raucous 70’s to show us just how Meryl Streep’s Donna found her way to that idyllic Greek island and stumbled into the hotel business. She’s played by Lily James here who is a true find, a charismatic beauty with a singing voice that could clear a cloudy day right out. The amazing, uncanny thing here is how they’ve managed find young actors who really do emulate their older selves, in the case of the three famous potential fathers she meets, and her two hilarious best friends, played again in the present by scene stealing Christine Baranski and Julie ‘Mrs. Weasley’ Walters. Amanda Seyfried has really come into her own as an actress, I’m always looking forward to whatever she does next because I know she’ll do it with grace and gravity, and her character blooms here as a strong pillar of the story as opposed to the fresh faced bride role she got in the first. Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan and Stellan Skarsgard return and give the film a shot of humour and warmth, while Andy Garcia charms everyone in a role which ties into a hit Abba song later in a way that’s so funny you don’t know whether to clap or roll your eyes. And yes, Cher is in it, her voice is still a powerhouse but she must have had so much work done that she’s more synthetic that organic these days, she’s gotta be in her early 70’s and looks like she just got done recording like her second album, it’s slightly terrifying. If you’re a true Abba buff you’ll appreciate two wicked cameos from founding members cleverly added. The film is fluff and sunshine for the most part, with emotion being relayed by the not always deep or resonant lyrics of Abba, let’s face it, they were a playful disco band. Curiously, there’s one song that really plumbs depths and reaches the most grounded and emotionally truthful height from both actors and audiences that these films have ever ascended to, and, not surprisingly, it’s the one song we get from Meryl Streep, who sadly has no more than a hyped up cameo, but five minutes of Meryl is enough to turn anything gold, really. This seems like an unreleased Abba song, one from mother to daughter sung to Seyfried, and anchors the film right into lucid pathos that I didn’t think was possible with a jumping bean of a flick like this. Like I said before, it’s love it or hate it. I grew up listening to Abba on vinyl, and these songs are a part of me. Every actor in the cast is someone I love to see, it’s set in one of the most beautiful locations in the world, uses the power of music to literally give nutrients to the soul, and is the perfect recipe for summer escapism.

-Nate Hill

Kenneth Branagh’s Thor

People get a little aghast when I say that Kenneth Branagh’s Thor is my favourite Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, but there’s something about the operatic, orchestral grandeur of Asgard contrasted with Thor’s deadpan, hilarious arrival on earth that is an irresistible flavour and calls back to classic adventure films of the 90’s that saw fish-out-of-water protagonists up to the same shenanigans (think the sea and feeling of Spielberg’s Hook, or the like). The world-building up there in the cosmic realm is still just some of the best eye candy the studio ever put out in their superhero romps, and no one blasted into the leading man scene quite like Chris Hemsworth did with his broad, knowingly silly and very heartfelt performance. The Avengers entries seem to earn all the love and they’re fun, but I like the solo outings that leave breathing room to focus on one of these heroes at a time, and really get to know them. Thor’s transformation from a proud, boorish and naive strongman who knows but one form of diplomacy (hit em with his hammer) into a wise, compassionate being worthy of the crown is just a great arc to see unfold. Throw in Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard and priceless Kat Dennings as the most utterly charming human ‘sidekick brigade’ the universe has to offer and the whole thing becomes an almost instant classic. Branagh is a Shakespearean veteran, and every hint of that instinct is on display in the theatrical showmanship of Asgard, in the performances of Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston as scheming Loki, Anthony Hopkins as godly Odin and terrific Idris Elba as celestial gatekeeper Heimdall, who steals every scene. On earth-side Natalie Portman is adorable and blooms with both romantic yearning and genuine smarts, Kat Dennings takes the concept of comic relief and runs with it so deftly she almost walks away with that portion of the film. Clark Gregg fleshes out his glib Agent Coulson character, Jeremy Renner does his first badass turn as Hawkeye, Colm Feore is icily menacing as Laufi, king of the fearsome Ice Giants, while Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Josh Dallas and Jaime Alexander fill in as Thor’s rowdy warrior entourage, mistaken for Robin Hood, Jackie Chan and Xena when they stroll down Main Street after arriving nonchalantly on earth to help the god of thunder do battle with a giant fire-stuffed tin man sent by spiteful Loki. There’s something so thrilling about this picture though, from the chemistry between Thor and Portman’s Jane to the camaraderie he has with Skarsgard’s Professor Selvig to the larger than life, tripped out and gorgeous visuals of Asgard set to a banger of a score by Patrick Doyle, it all just works so damn well and is the one chapter in the MCU canon that works best as a stand-alone film all its own. Another!!

-Nate Hill

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