Review


Caught stealing from a Los Angeles construction site, Louis “Lou” Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) attacks a security guard and steals his watch. After negotiating a price for the stolen material at a scrap yard, Bloom asks for a job, but the foreman at the scrap yard tells him that he will not employ a thief. Inspired by a freelance film crew he sees working the scene of a car crash, led by cameraman Joe Loder (Bill Paxton), Bloom steals a racing bicycle and trades it for a camcorder and a radio scanner. That night Bloom shoots the aftermath of a carjacking, moving up close and filming the victim’s death to compete with Joe Loder’s higher quality footage. Lou gets both him and Loder kicked off the crime scene, and they become rivals and competitors. Bloom offers the footage to a local TV station. The morning news director, Nina Romina (Rene Russo), buys the footage and encourages Bloom to continue his work. She stipulates that the station is most interested in footage of violent incidents in affluent neighbourhoods since these attract the most viewers. Bloom hires an assistant, Rick Carey (Riz Ahmed), a young man desperate for money, and begins his career as a professional nightcrawler. To get better footage, Bloom starts to alter crime scenes and the lines between being an observer and participant to become the star of his own story becomes truly blurred for Lou… “Nightcrawler” has a bleak, dark and thought-provoking script on massmedia and Jake Gyllenhaal moves ghostly around as the sociopath Lou in his dreamlike world where death and mayhem seems not real nor comprehensible. Emotional connection or empathy is not something he can grasp or understand. I see some reviewers compared his performance to Robert De Niro´s in “Taxi Driver” or “The King Of Comedy”, but I honestly don´t think you can compare these two performances. Jake Gyllenhaal can act psychotic, but he is nowhere near the range of De Niros acting or performance in for example “Taxi Driver”. I would rather say that Gyllenhaal´s performance is a bit too close to his own old character Donnie Darko, but yes his performance does stand out in “Nightcrawler”. We get an up close and personal look on the seedy world of a nightcrawler, a person who patrols the streets searching for recently-committed crimes. The object is to get candid and intimate shots of car crashes, murder etc as nice as possible and sell them to news stations for a quick profit. The lowest of the lowest jobs. To make money on someones tragedy. The film offers an eye for details and realism, but yet you are dragged into the world of Lou where you feel numb and your empathy ends up far down on the list. My main problem with “Nightcrawler” is that there´s no suspense in my eyes no matter how hard Dan Gilroy tries to bring that out. I felt bored and restless during a bigger part of the movie and all the raving reviews fell of their high pedestals when seeing the movie. Rene Russo is not in form in my point of view and I really disliked the soundtrack approach. I simply don´t see what many have seen in “Nightcrawler”. This one goes on the high end of the shelf. (3 out of 5)

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“The Captain” (Michael Caine) leads a band of mercenaries who fight for the highest bidder regardless of religion during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). His soldiers pillage the countryside, rape and loot when not fighting. Vogel (Omar Sharif) is a former teacher trying to survive the slaughter of civilians occurring throughout south-central Germany. Vogel runs from The Captain’s forces, but eventually stumbles upon an idyllic mountain vale, untouched by war. The Captain and his small band are not far behind. Eventually The Captain and his men catches up with Vogel. Trapped in the valley, Vogel convinces The Captain to preserve it and the village it shelters for their own benefit as the outside world faces famine and devastation. The Captain decides that his men will indeed rest here for the winter. He forces the locals to submit, especially their Headman Gruber (Nigel Davenport). The local Catholic priest (Per Oscarsson) is livid that the mercenaries include a number of Protestants (and nihilistic atheists for that matter), but there is little he can do to sway The Captain. The mercenaries are of one mind after The Captain kills a dissenting member of his band, and religious and ethnic divisions are set aside. At first, the locals accept their fate. Vogel is appointed judge by Gruber, to settle disputes between villagers and soldiers. As long as food, shelter, and a small number of women are provided, the mercenaries leave the locals alone. Hansen (Michael Gothard) attempts to rape a girl and, exiled from the group, manages to lead a rival mercenary band to the valley, before the winter sets in and closes the valley to all outsiders. He and his band are destroyed and the valley goes into hibernation. But as winter fades, it becomes obvious that the soldiers will have to leave. The Captain learns of a major military campaign in the Upper Rhineland and decides to leave the valley in order to participate. Vogel wants to accompany him, fearing Gruber will have him killed once The Captain leaves. However, The Captain orders Vogel to stay as the condition of not destroying the village and leaving a few men as guards…

“The Last Valley” (1971), directed by James Clavell (behind “Shogun” and “Taipan”), is an historical drama set during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). The film was an expensive failure. It earned rentals of $380,000 in North America and $900,000 in other countries, recording an overall loss of $7,185,000. With its setting in the Thirty Years’ War, it covered a period heretofore never depicted on film. In this light, George MacDonald Fraser wrote in 1988, “The plot left me bewildered – in fact the whole bloody business is probably an excellent microcosm of the Thirty Years’ War, with no clear picture of what is happening and half the cast ending up dead to no purpose. To that extent, it must be rated a successful film. … As a drama, The Last Valley is not remarkable; as a reminder of what happened in Central Europe, 1618-48, and shaped the future of Germany, it reads an interesting lesson.” Fraser says of the stars, “Michael Caine … gives one of his best performances as the hard-bitten mercenary captain, nicely complemented by Omar Sharif as the personification of reason.” “The Last Valley” is the only film I can think of that deals with the Thirty Years War. 17th century Europe was the century of the great religious conflicts between Catholic and the many Protestant faiths. The Catholic Hapsburg Holy Roman Empire was gradually losing its grip on more and more of the various little domains that made up their empire. More rulers and the populations of those small kingdoms were converting to either Lutheranism or Calvinism. The rest of Europe was concerned as to who would come out on top and from 1617 when the conflict first started, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, France, Spain etc got involved in one way or another. Religion was the key factor, but hardly the only one.

“The Last Valley” is a movie that has missed my radar and I´m truly glad that I bought it with my gut feeling. This is great epic story with a foundation in the horrors of the Thirty Years’ War whom Sweden were involved in as well. I love the settings, the environments, the clothes and the general vibe. The acting is truly intense and engaging (specifically from Caine and the swede Oscarsson) and I loved for example The Captain´s final confrontation with the Priest played by Oscarsson (truly evil in this role). That´s Caine at his best. The lovely Florinda Bolkan as Erica adds mysticism/female beauty and it was nice to see a young Brian Blessed as Korski. It´s gritty, it´s bloody, it´s dramatic, it has deep religious quarrels and it´s really about true survival in a time of war and the plague. There´s so much you can relate to modern times and what we see in this part of the world today. “The Last Valley” is a dialogue driven movie and the drama /action we get to see is strong and violent. To me it has a perfect mix of the two. I can´t understand that this ended up as a flop as it´s a fine piece of film in my eyes. (4 out of 5)

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A stranger (Clint Eastwood) on horseback rides into the mining town of Lago, where the townspeople are living in the shadow of a dark secret. Three gun-toting men follow him into the saloon, taunting him. When they follow him to the barbershop and threaten him, the Stranger shoots and kills all three, who served as the towns hired-gun protectors. Sheriff Sam Shaw tells the Stranger he will not be charged for killing the three men and eventually the towns leaders petition the Stranger to stay and protect them from 3 ruthless outlaws, Stacey Bridges and the brothers Dan and Cole Carlin, who are soon to be released from prison.The town´s previous Marshal, Jim Duncan, had been whipped to death by Bridges and the Carlin brothers, while the people of Lago looked on. A corrupt faction in Lago wanted Duncan dead because the Marshal discovered that the town’s mine is on government ground, the townsfolk fearing that this news, if reported, would result in the mine’s closure, which would threaten the town’s livelihood. The townspeople double-crossed the three gunfighters after they killed Duncan, leading to the trio’s imprisonment, and the men are expected to seek vengeance. The Stranger declines the job until Shaw tells him he can have anything he wants. Accepting these terms, the Stranger indulges in the town’s goods and services, including giving away goods to a law-abiding Native American and his children who have been verbally abused in a racist manner by the town elders. He then makes Mordecai, the outcast midget both sheriff and mayor. He also has everybody moved out of the local hotel, dismantles a barn in order to make picnic benches, has the entire town painted red, and paints the word “HELL” on the “LAGO” sign just outside town. While the Stranger trains the townspeople to defend themselves, Bridges and the Carlin brothers are released from prison and make their way to Lago…

Universal released the R-rated “High Plains Drifter” in the US in April 1973, and the film eventually grossed $15.7 million domestically, ultimately making it the sixth-highest grossing Western in North America in the decade of the 1970s and the 20th highest grossing film released in 1973. John Wayne, however, disdained “High Plains Drifter” and its iconoclastic approach, writing Eastwood a letter declaring, “That isn’t what the West was all about. That isn’t the American people who settled this country.” The film received positive reception from critics, and has 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. However, they did have some criticisms. A number of critics thought Eastwood’s directing derivative; Arthur Knight in Saturday Review remarked that Eastwood had “absorbed the approaches of Siegel and Leone and fused them with his own paranoid vision of society”. Jon Landau of Rolling Stone concurred, remarking that it is his thematic shallowness and verbal archness which is where the film fell apart, yet he expressed approval of the dramatic scenery and cinematography.During an interview on Inside the Actors Studio (1994), Clint Eastwood commented that earlier versions of the script made The Stranger the dead marshal’s brother. He favoured a less explicit and more supernatural interpretation and excised the reference. Although the Italian, Spanish, French and German dubbings retain it. Any holes in the plot were filled with black humour and allegory to Sergio Leone. Eastwood thought the allegory of the film was “a speculation on what happens when they go ahead and kill the sheriff and someone comes back and calls the town’s conscience to bear. There’s always retribution for your deeds.”

The Stranger is similar to The Man With No Name persona familiar to Clint Eastwood’s Spaghetti Westerns, and they even wear a similar hat. The character in the film has no personal name and is only referred to in the billing as The Stranger. “High Plains Drifter” portrays The Stranger as a quite misogynistic character. He does what he wants, he takes what he wants, he demands what he wants. He´s not very likeable, yet Lago knows that he is the man who can stop Stacey Bridges and the Carlin brothers. There´s something ambiguous and not human about The Stranger as in some other Clint Eastwood roles, almost like an archangel coming down to earth to punish the three antagonists for their crime of whipping someone to death. I do like that. “High Plains Drifter” really stands out during the whipping of Marshal Duncan sequence (with the camera angles and almost horrorlike music) and the final showdown with Bridges and the Carlin brothers. I haven´t seen this film for several years until I just saw it again the past week, but the whipping sequence has been burnt into my mind since I saw it the first time back in the 80s. A truly horrifying scene. In one way “High Plains Drifter” is a bit close to several other western movies Eastwood has made, so it loses a bit with that, but there´s still an original touch to it partly due to the fact that Eastwood´s character is very anti-hero like and the same goes for the whole town of Lago. “High Plains Drifter” is nevertheless still amongst Eastwoods best westerns. (4 out of 5)

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A serial killer and an expert on martial arts is preying on strippers in Manhattan’s Times Square in New York. Night after night, he visits smoky strip clubs, waiting for his victims and then randomly slashing and killing them. Matt Rossi (Tom Berenger) is a former boxer trying to escape his past whom is currently employed at a talent agency which caters exotic dancers to mafia-controlled strip clubs all over Manhattan. Matt and his business partner, Nicky Parzeno (Jack Scalia), are relentlessly dogged by Al Wheeler (Billy Dee Williams), a persistent police detective on the case of the murdered strippers, and is hoping to find something to nail both Matt and Nicky on. Matt is trying at the same time to reconcile with his former flame, Loretta (Melanie Griffith), whom also works as a dancer. With the police constantly hounding them, and under pressure from the mob to do something about the killings, Matt must somehow face his inner demons to find the killer before he strikes again…

“Fear City” is a low budget b-movie thriller from Abel Ferrara adding a mix of sex, nudity and violence to portray Times Square in the early 80´s, but at the same time he was most certainly looking for tabloid headlines and shock value to get an audience in the cinemas. The movie was originally made by 20th Century-Fox, but they decided that it had too much nudity, sex, violence and drug references for them, so they sold it to the independent Aquarius Releasing. Compared to Ferrara´s quite disturbing, but much more effective and visual “Ms. 45” (1981), this follow up is pretty disappointing. First of all the antagonist, the so called Karate killer makes no sense in my book. I guess due to the success of several martial arts movies back then, they decided that the killer should use martial arts and some how connect his killings to a cleaning of both himself and the city of New York in an eastern philosophical way. Did it work? No. Despite some ok names in the main roles (Berenger, Williams etc), I hardly believe any of them feel all that happy about their performances in this film. Melanie Griffith has never been a very good actress and “Fear City” doesn´t change that fact. It was however nice to see some old 80´s crushes passing by in the shape of Rae Dawn Chong and María Conchita Alonso. Abel Ferrara is good at showing the sleezy side of NYC and that has partly become his brandmark. But, he is quite uneven as a director, and this is a good example of the downside of his profession. The acting is so so, the dialogue so so, the action pretty ridiculous. But, you get a glimpse of some ok tension/ drama once in a while in the film. Nice to have seen it, but “Fear City” is hardly something you would see twice. (2 out of 5)

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Parker (Ryan Phillippe) and Longbaugh (Benicio del Toro) are two small time criminal drifters looking for an easy way to live life. They end up at a sperm donation facility, where they overhear a telephone conversation detailing a $1,000,000 payment to a surrogate mother for bearing the child of Hale Chidduck (Scott Wilson). Parker and Longbaugh resolve to kidnap the surrogate, Robin (Juliette Lewis), but their attempt escalates into a shootout with her bodyguards, Jeffers and Obecks. The kidnappers are able to elude the bodyguards, who are arrested. Jeffers and Obecks are bailed out and returned to Chidduck by Joe Sarno (James Caan). As Sarno begins coordinating Robin’s rescue, Longbaugh contacts the surrogate’s gynecologist, Dr. Allen Painter (Dylan Kussman), and orders him to a truck stop to examine Robin. After the examination, Painter returns to Chidduck, and it is revealed that the doctor is Chidduck’s son. Longbaugh calls and demands a $15 million ransom. Jeffers and Obecks, tempted by the money, begin forming a plan to save the child and keep the money themselves. Suddenly all sorts of shady characters are on the trail for Parker and Longbaugh, who got a lot more than they bargained for with this kidnapping…

“The Way Of The Gun” is a different, but yet classic kidnap action drama. It carries marks of Sam Peckinpah and the tone of a western, but is yet set in modern times. The main characters are just bad in all sorts of ways and carries both heavy weapons and less conscience. Parker and Longbaugh (the real last names of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) are very odd and it´s hard to put a finger on them. I like that. There´s scenes when they act simply different. Like the unusual car chase scene. That idea came from Benicio Del Toro. He suggested it to Christopher McQuarrie after watching the show Cops (1989) where a couple of criminals did the same when cops were chasing them. There´s realism in the coordinated movements, use of cover, and room-clearing tactics by Parker and Longbaugh, suggesting that they had military training. Christopher McQuarrie’s brother, a US Navy SEAL, was actually the technical advisor for the gunfight scenes. Unlike many movies with action-packed gunfights, every round fired is accounted for and all characters reload when appropriate, with the exception of one sequence in the brothel courtyard where Parker and Longbaugh fire dozens of rounds in rapid succession without pausing to reload: an intentional sort of fun tribute to classic action movie. The dialogue is odd, the pace is odd, some scenes are odd, the direction is somewhat odd, but the action is violent and brute. Somehow I have a hard time to explain my thoughts about “The Way Of The Gun”, except the fact that this movie stands out for sure in it´s bloody oddness. Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four and wrote, “McQuarrie pulls, pummels and pushes us, makes his characters jump through hoops, and at the end produces carloads of ‘bag men’ who have no other function than to pop up and be shot at … Enough, already”.Peter Stack, in his review for San Francisco Chronicle, wrote, “The Way of the Gun attempts to be poetical Peckinpah, but it’s a pointless exercise in gun violence with characterizations so thin they vaporize”.

Fun trivia: The opening scene where Parker punches the loudmouthed character played by Sarah Silverman is explained in the commentary as an idea Christopher McQuarrie had kicked around with his friends while heckling a large group of ultimate frisbee players at a dog park. They realized that if a group of people actually came at them, they would surely lose, but could “steal the victory” by giving the women bloody noses, making the womens’ boyfriends to be the focus of their ire (reasoning that the women would blame the boyfriends for starting the fight in the first place) long after the fight was over. Ryan Phillipe accidentally did punch Sarah Silverman in the opening scene; She got knocked out and when she woke up he was standing over her almost in tears. The make up department used fake blood and the huge lump on her chin was a continuity bonus. Phillipe apologized for a week. (3 and a half out of 5)

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It´s Lancashire/England in 1974. John Clark (Elliot James Langridge) is a young misfit feeling lonely, angry and dreams of belonging to something real and authentic that will get him out of the small town slump. When he finally goes to the local youth club pushed by his mother, he bumps into Matt (Josh Whitehouse), a young misfit as well with a true love for Northern soul. Matt´s dream is to go to America and discover super rare records which will help him become the best DJ on the Northern Soul scene in England. John and Matt becomes instant friends and quickly they both share the same passion for Northern Soul. Their dance and amphetamine fuelled quest brings them into contact with some of the darker elements of the scene that truly tests their friendship to its limits…

“Northern Soul” was a 15-year labour of love for writer/director Elaine Constantine that experienced real difficulties getting off the ground. Turned down by all the major funding bodies, key festivals and institutional production partners in the UK, the film was eventually funded through a mix of private investors and Constantine’s substantial personal investment. The film was eventually picked up for distribution by Universal Pictures who sub-licensed the theatrical release to Munro Film Services. Despite only being given a 3 day theatrical window and a limited marketing campaign the film went on to become the widest short-window release to date in the UK according to its producers. Initially expected to open on 6-14 screens nationally, the film opened on 89 screens on its opening night @ 120 screens across its opening weekend. With 97/98% seat occupancy across 235 individual screenings these were enough to propel the film into the box office top 10 for its opening weekend. The film has had a warm reception with the public and critics alike. On publication of early projections for the number of independent screens due to to take the film, social media groups sprang up campaigning for the film to come to their local cinema. This grass roots pressure on local indie screens, which included 23 Ourscreen bookings; the committed efforts of Munro Film Services and a growing media interest in the film’s progress saw distribution snowball to the levels above.To date the film has screened in nearly 300 separate cinemas and other venues in the UK. Mark Kermode of The Guardian was one of several critics who gave the film 4 stars, saying of the film: “Constantine catches the energy of the dancehall with aplomb, transporting her audiences from the empty floors of dour neighbourhood youth clubs to the throng of the Wigan Casino with urgent ease. Steve Coogan and Ricky Tomlinson add sly cameo support. Definitely worth a spin”.

Northern Soul is a genre I have discovered the past years and I honestly believe that it´s one of the greatest music scenes to dance to. So getting to see how it “looked and felt” back in the days through “Northern Soul” is something I appreciate. The film has a great authentic feeling and the music that is the centre piece gets your energy going together with John and Matt as they dance their days away. The movie has a great balance between humour, love, drama, music, dance and how it is to be young and longing to belong to something. I love the very specific Northern Soul dance routine and the outfits. But, I did feel however that “Northern Soul” didn´t lift to the heights I believe it actually could´ve done. I´m not sure what´s missing, but I reckon the general vibe could´ve been tweeked a bit more by Elaine Constantine to make it really stick in your mind. (3 and a half out of 5)

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Erik (Tim Robbins), a young Viking, discovers that he has no taste for rape and pillage, and suffers guilt over the death of Helga (Samantha Bond), an innocent woman. Erik learns from the wise woman Freya (Eartha Kitt) that Fenrir the wolf has swallowed the sun, plunging the world into the age of Ragnarök. Erik resolves to travel to Asgard to petition the gods to end Ragnarök. Freya informs him that to do so he must seek the Horn Resounding in the land of Hy-Brasil. The first note blown upon the Horn will take Erik and his crew to Asgard, the second will awaken the gods, and the third will bring the crew home. Keitel Blacksmith (Gary Cady) and his underling Loki (Antony Sher) are opposed to Erik’s plan, because peace would end the demand for Keitel’s swords. Keitel joins Erik’s crew to sabotage Erik’s plans. Halfdan the Black (John Cleese), afraid that peace will mean the end of his reign, sets sail in pursuit. Arriving at Hy-Brasil, Erik and crew are astonished to find it a sunlit land whose people are friendly (if musically untalented). Erik promptly falls in love with Princess Aud (Imogen Stubbs), daughter of King Arnulf (Terry Jones). Aud has warned the Vikings that should blood ever be shed upon Hy-Brasil, the entire island would sink beneath the waves. Erik and his crew defend Hy-Brasil against Halfdan’s ship. In gratitude for Erik’s having saved Hy-Brasil, King Arnulf presents him with the Horn Resounding, which is much larger than Erik had imagined. Loki steals the Horn’s mouthpiece, without which it cannot be sounded, and persuades Keitel to throw it in the sea. Snorri, one of Erik’s men, catches them in the act, and Loki kills him. A single drop of the man’s blood falls from Loki’s dagger, triggering an earthquake that causes the island to begin sinking.Erik’s crew, joined by Aud, prepare to escape in their ship with the Horn safely aboard, but Arnulf refuses to join them, denying that the island is sinking up to the very moment he and the other islanders are swallowed by the waves. Aud, who was able to recover the mouthpiece by chance, sounds the first note on the Horn. The ship is propelled over the edge of the flat Earth and into space, coming to rest upon the plain of Asgard. Erik sounds the second note to awaken the gods, and he and his crew approach the great Hall of Valhalla…

“Erik The Viking” was inspired by Terry Jones’s children’s book “The Saga of Erik the Viking” (1983), but the plot is completely different. With both Terry Jones (writer and director as well) and John Cleese in smaller roles you might believe the originality of Monty Python carries the film, but that´s not the case. This is just a way too light comedy we are served and it´s not funny nor memorable. I think this is just half assed from Jones and him relying on that the Monty Python stamp would be enough to make this film into something ok. This is a classic “in one eye, out the other” film. Robbins and Co are all just backdrops in this campy and pointless viking saga. The only positive thing in “Erik The Viking” is the gorgeous Imogen Stubbs. (2 out of 5)

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