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.

Agent Carter: Smoke & Mirrors – An Intense Cold (Review)

Agent Carter continues to walk that fine line between humor and some fairly intense characters. In Smoke & Mirrors Peggy Carter shows she can bluff, using “an intense cold” injection to break an unbreakable source.

HAYLEY ATWELL
Peggy Carter at that defining moment.

Agent Carter continues to walk that fine line between humor and some fairly intense moments. In Smoke & Mirrors Peggy Carter shows she can bluff, using “an intense cold” injection to break an unbreakable source. Jason Wilkes proves he is still top in his field, despite his weird distraction and Jarvis is willing but not always able.

This episode provides a double backstory element where the viewer learns of the humble (Whitney Frost), and not so humble (Peggy Carter), beginnings of the two main female characters.  The dual flashbacks for each character, that visit both Whitney, nee’ Agnes, and Peg at significant junctures of their lives explains much about each woman.

Whitney comes from the wrong side of the tracks, American tracks, and her mother sleeps with the landlord to keep a roof over her and Agnes’ head.  In England, Peg and her brother Michael play in the garden of a house that could belong to landed gentry.

Each memory shows how similar the two women are in temperament and attitude while their backgrounds are wildly dissimilar. Whitney (Agnes), is like Carter; intelligent and full of drive. The main difference is that Peggy’s life is shaped by war and tragedy while the young Whitney’s world is shaped by poverty and a mother who stresses that the world does not care how smart a woman is.

This focus on the build up of both character’s  past storyline, which has shaped them into the individuals they are today, seems to indicate that they will face one another.  It is interesting to note that the future Madam Masque was always more internalized than Carter. Not self-centered so much as just introspective and motivated more by her own needs.

Peggy on the other hand was set to live a life dictated by her soon-to-be husband, despite her brother Michael’s attempt to move his sister on a path more suited to her abilities and desires. It is his, her brother’s, death that motivates Peggy to stop the lie and take those first steps to becoming “Agent Carter.”

 KURTWOOD SMITH, HAYLEY ATWELL
KURTWOOD SMITH, HAYLEY ATWELL

Backstories aside, the episode also revealed just how influential the “Council of Nine” really is and that Vernon Masters (Kurtwood Smith) has been perfectly placed to play for the other side.  Whitney shows that coldblooded may be too tame a term for her pursuit of power and that SSR has a leak.

In Agent Carter, the cold war is ramping up, and Masters references the Hollywood 10 and makes a very unveiled threat toward “foreigner” Carter. (This appears to be the main thought process of the villains, later when Chadwick learns that Peggy kidnapped his lackey Hunt, he threatens deportation.)

Jarvis (James D’Arcy) and Hayley Atwell make a brilliant double act and their chemistry is spot on. D’Arcy is adept at comedy and his delivery is both perfectly timed and expertly performed.  As Carter’s “sidekick” Jarvis manages to be all manner of things to Peggy,  not least of which is being ready to take on all threats to his colleague. 

The fires of romance still smolder between Carter and Wilkes (Reggie Austin) as the scientist struggles to fix his “problem.” 

Whitney continues to do her own research, bringing in a cage of white rats to see if she can replicate making her director disappear. After one, inadvertent, success, the neophyte super villain goes on to do the same to the overconfident stool pigeon Mr. Hunt.

By the end of the episode, there are two memorable moments revealed via flashback. Peggy’s decision to enter the war as a field agent and pre-Whitney Agnes learning that in Hollywood one can be whatever they want.

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Significant shot of Peggy Carter’s backstory…

Agent Carter also maintains that level of amusing moments, relying upon the atypical English delivery from Peggy, that makes this Marvel offering so much fun.

Example: As Carter and Chief Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) interrogate Rufus Hunt (Chris Browning) and Peggy gives him an injection she claims contains a deadly strain of malaria. Sousa questions her about this and Carter reveals that Howard Stark developed a cold injection. 

Sousa: “You gave him a cold?”

Carter: “An intense cold.”

It is brilliant to see Kurtwood Smith doing what he does best; portraying an absolute stinker of a baddy. In Smoke & Mirrors, Resurrection actress Samaire Armstrong  plays Agnes Cully’s mother Wilma opposite prolific character actor Chris Mulkey in Whitney’s flashback sequences.

Wynn Everett is disturbing as Whitney and she manages walk the fine line between delighted discovery (of her new power) and an underlying fear of this new ability.  Yorkshire actor Max Brown plays Peggy Carter’s older brother Michael with quiet conviction, in the limited time allotted his cameo appearance and Olivia Welch is spent on as the teenage Whitney/Agnes.

Agent Carter airs Tuesdays on ABC for 10 episodes. With six left in the second season, wise Marvel fans will opt to tune in “on the day.”

Marvel’s Agent Carter: Season 2 Premiere – Dottie, Zero Matter & Madame Masque

The second season premiere of Marvel’s Agent Carter sees the capture of Dottie, the existence of zero matter and the creation of Madame Masque.

SEAN O'BRYAN, HAYLEY ATWELL, ENVER GJOKAJ

The second season premiere of Marvel’s Agent Carter sees the capture of Dottie, the existence of zero matter and the creation of Madame Masque. Combining the first two episodes of the the show’s returning season, The Lady in the Lake and A View in the Dark, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) ends up in LA and survives a “dark” explosion that changes Whitney Foster from aging film star to super villain.

Carter is sent to Los Angeles by Chief Thompson (played with snotty effectiveness by Chad Michael Murray) because Chief Sousa (Enver Gjokaj), according to Thompson, asked for Peggy personally.   Eager to interrogate Dottie Underwood (Bridget Regan), things get off to a rocky start, where Dottie proves superior to Thompson’s questioning techniques, and they are interrupted by FBI head Vernon Masters (Kurtwood Smith) who informs the chief that SSR no longer have jurisdiction.

Once Peggy arrives in LA, she is picked up by Jarvis (James D’Arcy) who introduces the agent to Bernard the flamingo and Ana (Lotte Verbeek), the butler’s Dutch  wife.

The first half of the premiere introduces viewers to Whitney Frost ( in her pre-transformation stage, i. e. pre-Madame Masque) and  Detective Andrew Henry, aka “Detective Icicle.”  It also reveals that Dottie was after a lapel pin (with an ‘A’ on it”)  which is, according to showrunner Michele Fazekas, the symbol of a group of 12 rich white guys…A sort of competitive faction to Hydra…presumably.

The storyline has Carter assisting Sousa and Henry in investigating the re-emergence of a serial killer known as “The Lady in the Lake Killer.” This time, however, the killer has frozen part of Echo Lake on the hottest day of summer.

Sousa, who has a girlfriend that Peggy knew nothing about, and Carter track clues back to Isodyne Energy (in Pasadena)  the female agent meets Dr. Wilkes, who catches her eye, and vice versa. They also learn that Henry is the one responsible for the dead girl in the lake and for freezing the body of water.

The ice-making detective does not survive to appear in part two of the second season premiere as he is shot by a cop hired by senator hopeful, and husband to Frost, Calvin Chadwick (Currie Graham) who is also the head of Isodyne. Wilkes turns out to know much more about the company and what lies behind closed doors than he initially let on.

Marvel’s Agent Carter then moves into part two, A View in the Dark, which starts off rather comically, as compared to the more action oriented first half, with Jarvis and Peggy getting  physical.

 HAYLEY ATWELL, JAMES D'ARCY
Jarvis and Peggy getting up close and personal…

Wilkes and Peggy meet to talk about Isodyne’s “secret.” Carter goes alone, after cancelling the “date” with Sousa and Violet (his new girlfriend) when she finds an engagement ring.  The scientist and SSA agent have a meeting of the minds once Peggy reveals a lot of backstory and Wilkes decides he trusts her.

Frost learns that the the “12 rich white men” of ‘A’ have opted to shutdown the zero matter operation at Isodyne.  Wilkes shows Peggy how zero matter was created and Jason explains his theories and explains that the stuff can be contained. After Carter tells the scientist that they will be collecting the matter from Isodyne, hitmen sent by the company to kill Wilde strike.

Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) may be absent from this second season premiere but his presence is felt, as Peggy is staying at his place and using his car; the Leisure model, with champagne, a fold back seat and a mirror on the car ceiling. The vehicle also has a tracker. Called the “sock on the doorknob” it is this device that Carter activates when learning the Stark car has a flat when she and Wilkes attempt to flee the gunmen.

Being one resourceful female agent Peggy hot-wires another car and she and Jason escape.  As they try to get change for a pay phone, after Carter realizes that she has seen the ‘A’ symbol on the lapel pin before, Sousa gets a call from Jarvis about Peggy.

Sidenote: Nice touch when the chief asks “Who’s that clown?” The camera pans over to man in clown makeup sitting dejectedly on a chair in the talent agency reception.

The attraction between Jason and Peggy gets a nasty jolt of racism as they get change for the phone and the two head to the lab to retrieve the zero matter. Sousa erupts when he learns that Carter is in danger and at Isodyne, Peggy kicks major butt while Wilkes goes to get the fluid.

Seconds after the zero matter has been transferred, Whitney Frost arrives and fights with Jason over the fluid. The container breaks and a dark explosion erupts that engulfs the entire facility.  Carter survives but there is no sign of Jason or Frost.

Later, the first sign of Madame Masque appears as Frost looks in the mirror but there is no sign of Wilkes. In the Marvel verse Jason Wilkes is changed by his exposure to zero matter and becomes unstable, i.e. prone to invisibility and “intangibility.”

There are a number of familiar faces in season two of Marvel’s Agent Carter. The appearance of Kurtwood Smith is promising, and a treat, as is the re-appearance of Ray Wise as one of the men from ‘A’ and it has to be said Bridget Regan still rocks as Dottie.

 REGGIE AUSTIN, HAYLEY ATWELL
Wilkes shows Carter the beginning of zero matter.

The zero matter storyline is obviously a tie to upcoming  Dr. Strange film.  Hopefully Howard Stark will be showing up soon, on the series,  and James D’Arcy as Jarvis continues to delight while Atwell as Agent Carter enthralls and captivates, as usual. Reggie Austin is brilliant as Jason Wilkes…Nuff said.

Marvel’s Agent Carter airs Tuesdays on ABC. Tune in for some old-fashioned pre-Avenger’s espionage and action.

Survivor (2015): Milla Jovovich Versus Pierce Brosnan

Pierce Brosnan is Nash, aka The Watchmaker
Directed byJames McTeigue from a screenplay by Philip Shelby, Survivor features a more than capable cast. Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil, The Perfect Get Away), Pierce Brosnan, Robert Forster, Frances de la Tour (who recently featured as the giant in the 2014 Disney film Into the Woods) and a group of brilliant talent that included James D’Arcy, Dylan McDermottAntonia Thomas, to name but a few. Survivor could be seen as a sort of advertisement for anti-terrorism, a throwback to the days of McCarthy-ism perhaps, where all non-American’s are immediately suspect, and not a few US citizens are up to no good as well. 

Certainly the film does show the abject paranoia that has gripped the government since 9/11 and it also shows that regardless of whether you work for the British  or the US government, guilt is immediately presumed before it is proven. The film also shows just how slowly and ineffectually both government’s security departments move. Like a rusty wheel, the mechanism is stiff and hard to run.

Jovovich is the newest addition to the American Embassy in London, Kate Abbott. She is a high flying security officer who has a sterling reputation. Her immediate boss, Bill Talbot (Forster) is not overly pleased to have her on board but the “big boss” Sam Parker (McDermott) is glad that she is on his team. When one of the visa team flag a request from Dr. Emil Balan (Roger Rees) Kate steps in to investigate. Bill attempts to intervene but the visa is denied. 

Balan complains to his superiors who bring immediate pressure on the Embassy, Kate and Sam to clear the Doctor. Paul Anderson (D’Arcy) is an officious prig who tries to bully the Embassy into clearing the medico. As Abbott attempts to find out who is behind Balan, she discovers that Talbot has a record of passing dubious visa requests.

As the visa team go to celebrate Bill’s birthday, professional assassin “The Watchmaker” aka Nash (Brosnan) kills the team, but Kate survives. Thus begins the cat and mouse game where it seems that Nash’s side hold all the advantages and Kate’s paranoid and frightened bosses are all too ready to give their new security chief up.

Jovovich fills the shoes of a security chief with ease and shows just enough know-how and tenacity that her battles with the minions of terror all feel real and possible. Brosnan as bad guy works very well, taking a step back from his non-Bond spy in The November Man.  (And an even further one from his old Bond days or Remington Steele ones.)

Survivor will not set heart’s racing or cause the viewer’s adrenaline to surge, but the storyline is solid enough and there are enough twists and turns to make the film entertaining. There are the usual complaints associated with any film that uses London as a location. The underground is never that clean or void of graffiti and the streets are not that litter free. As the action starts off in, and plays mostly in, London it is also doubtful that McDermott’s character would be allowed to run around the streets of the capital with a gun.

The plot is not quite a “by the numbers” set piece but there is just enough reliance upon on stereotypes that it does feel awfully close to a standard spy film. Director McTeigue may talk about “hiding” his political messages in the films he makes but in Survivor the point he is trying to make may as well be painted in neon colors.

Still, unhidden messages aside, the film is entertaining, albeit frustrating as one really does feel that Ambassador Crane (Angela Bassett) was a tad too ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater and label her former protege a traitor/terrorist. Jovovich, as usual, is a joy to watch. This woman works hard to make whatever role she plays feel real and her Kate Abbott is no exception.

McDermott is also believable; another actor who oozes a sense of reality in any part he plays. Survivor is a solid 3.5 out of 5 stars and is streaming on US Netflix at the moment. Good spy fare, despite the “warning/pronouncement” at the end about how many terrorists the US government have caught since 9/11.