The Snowman (2017): Slow, Beautiful and Quirky (Review)

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Directed by  Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Let the Right One In) The Snowman (based on Jo Nesbo’s novel of the same name) was made from a screenplay co-authored by   Peter Straughan,  Hossein Amini and Søren Sveistrup) features a case on the alcoholic Harry Hole (pronounced holy) played by Michael Fassbender. Fans of the “Nordic Noir” series featuring the FBI trained inspector will be, no doubt, a tad disappointed with this screen version. 

For a start, there is no mention as to why Hole is such an asset to the police department that his boss is willing to cover for his being AWOL from work. The film also touches all too briefly on the love affair between Harry and his ex-girlfriend Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg) but changes the story line somewhat in order to fit the film in a just under a two hour time period. 

I personally adore the entire Harry Hole series by Nesbo.  The Snowman was sixth in the series and while it seems odd that the filmmakers opted for this late novel the movie still works. We miss the intimacy of the books, there is no real focus on Hole or his alcoholic habit, including the why, or just why he and Rakel are still, on the sly, a couple.

The books emphasize the sexual proclivity of Harry along with his weakness for alcohol and the grip is has on his everyday existence.

However:

The film feels right. The story of Harry, as well as Nesbo’s superb novel The Headhunter  (that also left a good bit out of the film when translated from the novel) has to leave a lot of Nesbo’s work and character development or the finished project would have been in excess of four hours long.

I loved the series and Hole as a character. He felt a bit like a Norwegian version of England’s “Cracker” (played so well by that behemoth of talent Robbie Coltrane – who did have a career before Hagrid in the Harry Potter franchise), in other words, a chap who was head and shoulders above his colleagues in skill sets and yet seriously flawed.

At first glance, Fassbender seems a poor choice to play Hole in “The Snowman.” However, he does shine as the alcoholic cop who is deeply addicted to booze, his ex-girlfriend and the pursuit of criminals. He is also, it seems, addicted to sex and not just with his ex. (This is more evident in the books.)

A woman goes missing and all that is left behind is her colorful scarf; wrapped around the neck of a snowman. The trail then leads Hole and his new partner Katrine Bratt (played by Rebecca Ferguson) to investigate a slew of missing women. All the cases seem to be interlinked and Bratt has her own personal agenda while working on the case.n

Bratt leads us to the most puzzling aspect of the film meant to be directed by Scorsese. Her father, played by a very ill-looking Val Kilmer, is part of the case despite being dead for a very long time. Kilmer, who looks to be on death’s door, has his lines dubbed for the film and it has the effect of throwing one right out of the story.

While Scorsese was attached to the film when the initial prospect of The Snowman being made into a film was in its infancy, Alfredson gives us a pretty well rounded film despite the odd bits of editing and continuity that jar and annoy.

(Moments after finding the head of a missing woman stuck on a small snowman, Hole tells his boss that it is all about missing persons at the moment, which is clearly wrong.)

J.K Simmons affects an English accent, Toby Jones is vastly underused and the film does deviate from its source quite a lot. Still, the mood and atmosphere remain faithful to Nesbo’s novel and the movie looks stunning. There is no doubt that we are in Norway, despite the lack of folks speaking the local lingo. (Although some minor parts do speak in what sounds like Norwegian.)

It would have been interesting to see a Norwegian version of this film, with a cast of Nordic performers and subtitles, but this effort manged to entertain, despite it’s overall length of just under two hours.

The Snowman scores a full 4.5 stars out of five for its atmosphere and the ability to keeps one glued to the screen throughout. The appearance of Val Kilmer serves to mystify rather than intrigue although the rest of the film manages to pull the viewer in nicely.

Check this one out at the cinema, it will be worth it, and then rush out and read the books by Nesbo. You will be glad you did. This is a quirky Nordic Noir thriller that manages to deliver despite deviating from the superb book.

The Foreigner (2017): Taut and Entertaining Version of “The Chinaman” (Trailer)

The Foreigner (2017): Taut and Entertaining Version of "The Chinaman"

The Foreigner, directed by Martin Campbell from a screenplay by David Marconi, is the big screen version of Stephen Leather’s taut and very entertaining novel “The Chinaman.” Jackie Chan plays the lead character and he faces up against Pierce Brosnan and a group of “new” IRA members who are hell bent on starting up the old campaign of terror anew.

Fans of Leather’s work will no doubt notice a few changes, with the title change being the first as well as the character’s nationality change, but this does not affect the story at all.  Overall, the tale’s message is the same and it is very easy to get caught up in Quan Ngoc Minh’s personal vendetta against those responsible for his daughter’s death.

The Foreigner is all about Minh’s search for justice after his daughter is killed by a bomb blast in a small clothes shop.(In the book it is Minh’s daughter and wife who die.) Minh visits the police everyday in order to get the names of those responsible. He even offers to pay for the names but the police, despite not operating that way, do not know who is in this new IRA cell.

Brosnan is Liam Hennessy, an Irish deputy minister with a few too many irons in the fire, who offers to help the British government find the new cell and stop them. He also has a lot more going on than is immediately evident. Minh goes to meet with Hennessy and soon the two men are locked in battle.

The Foreigner, like “The Chinaman” offers a main character who is much more than he appears. Minh may well be the owner of a Chinese takeaway/restaurant but he is the sum of his past experiences. These turn out to be all too deadly as Hennessy soon learns to his chagrin.

The pacing is spot on, like the novel it is based upon, and it feels like a splendid throwback to gritty films like the 1980 Bob Hoskins Helen Mirren gangster movie The Long Good Friday(A film that features a very young Pierce Brosnan as a young IRA assassin and one that also deals with bombings.) It has a touch of “Who Dares Wins” to it and features solid performances from all the players.

Campbell manages to keep things moving at a cracking pace and Chan proves that he is adept outside the action/comedy roles that have made him an icon in the industry. The film looks brilliant with everything meshing together perfectly.

The locations, the film is mainly set in London, are spot on and all lack the glamorous appearance of the capital city in films like “The Kingsman 1 and 2.” The action in The Foreigner steadily increases and while the timeline has been “moved up” to fit the present, the tale loses nothing in this shift.

Anyone who has read the book will find that the film delivers Leather’s story well and one has no problem getting behind Minh in his quest for vengeance and his own personal closure.

This is a full five star film that has been, somewhat strangely, given a limited release. (In the cinema where we viewed it The Foreigner was showing in only one theater cubicle.) There is some cursing (the worst being the “C” word), a tiny amount of vague nudity and a lot of violence.

The Foreigner is playing in cinemas now and is well worth the price of admission. Check it out.

Blade Runner 2049 (2017): Beautifully Disappointing (Review)

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The long awaited sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 sleeper hit “Blade Runner” is beautiful to look at and offers a ranging plot line but ultimately disappoints by the time the end credits run. Directed this time around by Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario, Arrival) Blade Runner 2049 has the same dogmatic and plodding feel that the original film featured but with a lot more scope and, for lack of a better word, space. 

While the first film relied much more on the excellent Phillip K. Dick book “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” and a splendid cast that included Rutger Hauer as the lead replicant and a very young Daryl Hannah, this iteration moved forward in the verse to give us a different kind of “runner.”

K (Ryan Gosling) is a Blade Runner who is not human, he is a “new” replicant.  As he starts chasing down the remaining old replicants he finds a mysterious box after killing Dave Bautista’s Sapper Morgan. Inside the receptacle rests the bones of Rachel and evidence of childbirth. 

The film then follows K (or Joe as Joi – played with an aching poignancy by Ana de Armas – the computerized companion calls him) as he tries to find out who the child is. At one point we believe, as he does, that Decker (Harrison Ford) is his father, but later we learn more about this curious triangle. 

The performances in Blade Runner 2049 are top notch, with only Jared Leto letting the side down a bit with his take on Wallace.  De Armas manages to practically steal every scene she is in and it is nigh on impossible not to fall in love with this brilliant actress as she brings Joi to life.

Rutger Hauer may be missing from this tale but the Dutch are ably represented by the marvelous Sylvia Hoeks who manages to make her character suitably scary in all the right places.  Villeneuve does a good job recreating the verse that Scott initially brought to the screen but the film is over-long. Two hours and 43 minutes is a long time to sit and the slow pacing of the movie made this seem much longer at times. 

Like the first film the progress of the plot and story line plods along at a frustratingly pedestrian rate. Too much time is spent questioning something that the audience, if they have been paying attention, will have guessed  midway through the film.

Despite the film generating a overall feeling of mild disappointment, there are enough nods and winks to the original to keep fans interested and pleased. The origami sheep (made by Gaff – a clear nod to the Philip K. Dick book), the clear raincoat worn by Joi, the atmosphere of L.A. and the re-emergence of Rachel (Sean Young appearing in a clip and later as a CG creation that just was weird looking as the CG replication of the late Peter Cushing in Rogue One.

Blade Runner 2049 looks beautiful and feels like a logical carry on from the first. However, like Rutger Hauer has stated, the first film was almost sheer perfection. Any sequel, despite the love and care that went into it, was bound to fall short, as this does.

But…

This is a film that needs to be seen. It encompasses so much, while still falling that little bit short, that one must see it in the cinema to appreciate the sheer grandness of the world it presents. The sets, the costumes, the performances and the cinematography combine beautifully to take us into this gloomy downtrodden world.

The film manages to bring us into its tale of a miracle amidst so much decay and loneliness (which, ultimately, this sequel is all about) with a lot of care to detail and stunning visuals. Mild disappointment aside, Blade Runner 2049 is still one to watch on the big screen.

There is violence, not much in the way of nudity and very little foul language. While not as originally pleasing as Scott’s 1982 version, the film earns 4.5 stars in presentation alone. Similar to this year’s version of the Stephen King horror re-imagining “ItBlade Runner 2049 will deliver a potent punch for fans, while still managing to disappoint overall.