Smilla’s Sense Of Snow begins with a specific inciting event: a young Inuit boy plummets off the roof of a multi storey building in Copenhagen, to his death. The only person who seems to care is Smilla (Julia Ormond), a girl who lives in the complex, is half Inuit herself and did her best to take care of the poor kid when his mother drowned in alcoholism. From there the film spirals into curious, unexpected thriller elements that seem to have left many viewers baffled (reviews over time haven’t been so kind), but it’s the uniqueness of this story that appeals to me, the way we find ourself wondering how such a simple and straightforward incident can lead to the kind of sequences you’d find in a Bond film. That’s the mark of an absorbing thriller, no matter how ‘out there’ people complain it is. Smilla deliberately cloaks herself in a facade of coldness not dissimilar from the snowy northern landscape around her and comes across as initially unpleasant, but when we see how far she’s willing to go and what she will risk to uncover the truth around the boy’s death, we realize there’s a heart in there and Ormond creates a mesmerizing protagonist. There is indeed a clandestine web of secrets, coverups and conspiracies revolving around the whole thing, and it’s great fun watching her follow the breadcrumb trail to where it all leads. She’s a withdrawn, introverted person, and these qualities don’t lend themselves to hands on detective work, but therein lies the gold mine of character development for her as she discovers perhaps one of the most bizarre string of events I’ve seen in a thriller. The supporting cast is full of gems, starting with Gabriel Byrne as her neighbour and love interest, just darkly charismatic enough to suggest that he may not be who he says he is. The late great Robert Loggia makes a stern but soulful appearance as her powerful father, who pulls some strings to help her out. Soon she’s led to a shadowy scientist (Richard ‘OG Dumbledore’ Harris) with ties to it all, and other appearances from Jurgen Vogel, David Hayman, Bob ‘Clever Girl’ Peck, Vanessa Redgrave, Ona Fletcher, Tom Wilkinson, a quick cameo from one of the Doctor Who actors and an excellent Jim Broadbent in full exposition mode. The eventual premise here is set up in an arresting prologue concerning a lone Inuit hunter observing a meteor fall to earth and cause an almighty mess on the tundra, serving to inform us right off the bat that although this film initially sets off on the trajectory of a straightforward murder mystery, there will be elements of the fantastical. Said elements proved to be either too far out there or too removed from the grounded opening for people to grasp hold of, but not me. I love the journey this one takes, I love the heroine we get to take it with, I’m awed by the stunning arctic photography every time and the story always draws me in. Great film.
Larysa Kondracki’s The Whistleblower requires a strong stomach to sit through some of the true life atrocities depicted, but it also begs that one doesn’t look away, or the efforts of one intrepid UN worker (Rachel Weisz) would have gone unheeded, because almost everyone else besides her turned a blind eye when scores of young woman in post war Bosnia were being held captive and brutalized in the illegal sex trade. I can’t think of anyone more adept than Weisz at playing someone this relentlessly compassionate; there’s just something in her warm brown eyes, comforting voice and genuine aura that that camera and dialogue practically melt over. Horror like this almost always follows the fog of war, when the barriers of civilization have taken a hit and the darkness they held at bay roams free for awhile, plus it’s hard to keep track of people after something like that wipes records, destroys towns and fucks up infrastructure. In any case, Weisz’s Kathryn Bolkovac discovers dozens of underground brothels where young girls are held, raped and tortured by mercenaries every day. Her boss at the UN (Liam Cunningham in a chilling portrait of casual indifference) tells her to lay off and they they’re “whores of war, that’s how it works.” Faced with that kind of betrayal from her own people snaps something in Kathryn and she feels deeply compelled to launch her own personal crusade to save the girls, but it proves to be a dangerous task when she realizes that not only do organizations not really care, but some may actively have interests in stopping her. Using contacts in various departments including Monica Bellucci, a kindly Vanessa Redgrave, Benedict Cumberbatch and a fantastic David Strathairn, she gradually gets to the centre of this evil maze, towards truth and freedom for hundreds of innocent girls. The great thing about this film is that it functions as both a superbly exciting political thriller in the vein of Bourne, but really it’s a deeply human, very personal and harrowing study of evil taking root in a region, as the light that Kathryn keeps in her heart wth which to fight it. This is represented in a key relationship between Kathryn and a young Bosnian girl named Raya (Roxana Kondurache, phenomenal) who she takes a special interest in and becomes poster child for these girls. Also, it’s a very carefully researched true story too and that always makes events like this far more affecting onscreen. Just go in with the right mindset and guardrails up because the scenes of sexual abuse and torture are almost unbearable, but necessary to the story arc. A winner in every sense of the word.
Those learning the craft of film-making nowadays shall have little to no experience with cutting film the old fashioned way. True – it was timing consuming, sometimes messy and fraught with peril – depending on your mastery. It was, however, also romantic. The trims at your feet, the smell of celluloid, the tactile nature of editing a movie . . . one splice at a time.
Mick’s a gentleman, aside from being and exceptional craftsman, and please do check out all the great work he is doing over at his family owned and operated venture Sprocket Rocket Soho. Mick is continuing to contribute, educate and bring together all those with a passion for telling stories via the moving image.
Lulu On The Bridge is an odd one, and that’s a compliment. It subtly strains at the constrictions of genre until you realize just how unique it has gotten right under your nose. I’ve always thought of it as the Abel Ferrara fiom that he never made. Harvey Keitel delivers a home run of a lead performance as Izzy Maurer, a renowned jazz musician who loses his ability to play after he is shot by a lunatic gunman (Kevin Corrigan) while he is performing his music in a cafe. He sinks into a deep depression following the incident, and then something curious happens. One day he finds a mysterious stone, with a phone number attached to it and some seemingly mysterious qualities which alter the psyche, mood and perception of anyone in its vicinity. The phone number leads him to Celia Burns (the ever excellent and under estimated Mira Sorvino), an aspiring actress who’s fallen just south of the success line, and has a taste for Izzy’s music. The two seem destined to meet and as you might guess, begin a passionate love affair that begins to get a bit obsessive, with strong hints directed towards the stone that seems to govern will and volition. Their romance is hot, heavy and volatile, threatened when a mysterious man named Dr. Can Horn (a classy but dangerous Willem Dafoe) separately kidnaps them in attempt to retrieve the stone. The script deliberately shades over its true intentions until the very last minute, stopping to pick many dialogue and thematic flowers along the way, as well as leave a few red herrings behind. Gina Gershon is great as Izzy’s ex wife, and the monumantal supporting cast also includes Richard Edson, the great Victor Argo, Harold Perrineau, Mandy Patinkin, Vanessa Redgrave and a brief Lou Reed who is pricelessly credited as ‘Not Lou Reed’. If you snag a dvd you can also see deleted scenes work from Stockard Channing, Jared Harris, Josef Sommer and Giancarlo Esposito. The film attempts music, mystery, doomed love, urban mysticism, thriller and drama elements. I’m happy to report that it succeeds at all of them, a gem not unlike the mcguffin stone within the plot, and a haunting little modern fairy tale. Check it out.
James Mangold is a director who takes nothing but top shelf scripts and spins them into gold, and Girl Interrupted is a shining example of this. It’s based on a book by Susannah Kayson in which she outlines an 18 month stay at a mental ward sometime during the 60’s. Mangold adapts her book for the screen, gathers an excellent cast of talented gals and a couple guys, and makes a film that holds up today like it was still it’s release week in 1999. Winona Ryder plays Susanna, a reckless girl who is labeled wayward and unstable by her parents, committed to a facility by her stern psychiatrist (Red Forman himself, Kurtwood Smith). She’s a little rough around the edges, but one senses the innate sensibility to her that perhaps has been buried under turbulent behaviour not by anything within her, but by the constricting nature of the time period she has been born into. In any case, she finds herself thrown into an environment she didn’t expect, with many other girls, some of which she clashes with, some of which she ends up befriending, and one that.. well, defies classification, really. The girl in question is Lisa, played by a fantastically fired up Angelina Jolie who nearly combusts upon herself in her furious performance. Lisa has been dubbed nearly unable to treat, yet simply has the kind of soul that doesn’t fit into a box, let alone lend itself to scholarly dissection. Ice cool one moment, a raging typhoon the next, and holding a dense riot shield over any trace of her true emotions every second, she’s an enigmatic, elemental wild card. It’s the best work I’ve ever seen from Jolie, getting her a well earned oscar nod. She teaches Susanna some lessons that only people on that side of the glass can comprehend, confounding the facility’s head doctor (Vanessa Redgrave) and puzzling a kind orderly (Whoopi Goldberg), two rational people who simply can’t understand the kind resolution and companionship that often comes out of irrational, unconventional interaction that almost always is seen as ‘unstable’. Ryder is pitch perfect and carries her share of the load, but despite being the protagonist, it’s Jolie’s show all the way. She’s unbelievably good and will break the heart of both first time viewers and veterans who put the dvd in every so often for a tearful revisit. The late Brittany Murphy is great as Daisy, another complicated girl, and Clea Duvall scores points as Georgina, the shy and reserved one. There’s also work from Jared Leto Elizabeth Moss, Angela Bettis, Bruce Altman, Mary Kay Place, Kadee Strickland, Misha Collins and Jeffrey Tambor. Tender, patient and non judgmental are qualities which are essential in films of this subject matter, as well as empathy from both viewer and filmmaker, to take a look at these girls and even though we may not understand what is going on with them or their beaviour, to simply bear witness, and be there for them. Mangold knows this and acts accordingly, leading to a beautiful film of the highest order. Viewers are sure to do the same, completing the artistic ring full circle.