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.

Slow West (2015): Michael Fassbender’s Whimsical Western

Michael Fassbender as Silas Selleck
Written and directed by John Maclean (his first feature length film) this 2015 movie stars Michael Fassbender and Jodi Smit-McPhee and the film can be best described as a whimsical western. Slow West has been somewhat oddly listed as an action thriller and western on IMDb. This over two hour long blackly comic romance story definitely does not fall into action thriller territory, despite its sizable body count.

Smit-McPhee is Jay the 16 year-old son of Lady Cavendish who follows the love of his young life from Scotland to America. Fassbender is Irishman Silas Selleck, bounty hunter and brute (according to Jay), who shows up and helps Jay travel across the country, for a fee of $100. Young Cavendish is following the trail of Rose Ross (Caren Pistorius) and her father John (played by Rory McCann who was Michael “Yarp” Armstrong in Hot Fuzz) who inadvertently killed Jay’s uncle back in Scotland.

There is a $2000 bounty on their heads dead or alive. This is why Silas has hooked up with Jay, he is a bounty hunter and Selleck plans to follow Cavendish to his lady love and collect the reward. Along the way, Jay sees a Native American village that is burnt to the ground, and a lot of death.

While Slow West can be best described as whimsy on horseback, this film is not at all an average “oater.” It is odd, quirky, insightful, tongue-in-cheek and, in places, laugh out loud funny. Maclean has given us a look, in some ways, at how the west really was. Unlike most standard cowboy movies where everyone either has Californian accents, or midwest (think John Wayne or Hank Fonda) the director gives us an Irishman, a Scot, an Englishman posing as a minister, a moralizing thieving German, two would-be Swedish robbers and a group of what look to be inbred hillbillies, a’la Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch railroad posse.

Perhaps the oddest nationality to show up in the middle of the American West are a trio of Congolese singers. Each man appears to have some sort of issue with mobility. One is on an old-fashioned wheelchair, another has a crutch and the last is seated on the ground. This surreal scene takes place in the middle of the prairie and the three men are singing as Silas and Jay ride past.

Cavendish stops to listen. “Did you like our music,” the man with the crutch asks. “Yes,” replies Jay. “It was a song of love,” replies crutch-man. “Aw, love is universal, like death,” says Jay before riding off. This odd little exchange (which feels a little Terry Gilliam-ish) also seems to foreshadow future events.

There is quite a lot of that in this film. A bullet-hole in a suit, a playful poking in the chest with an index-finger gun barrel in a game…Speaking of games, in a flashback to Scotland, Jay and Rose are playing a game called “A 1000 Ways to Die.” “Pick yours,” calls Rose and Jay chooses Bow and Arrow, another foreshadowing of a future event in the American West.

While the film has all the trappings of the old west, it also features things that feel more like a satirical pastiche of the genre. The music that accompanies the film feels like something one would hear in a French film. The style of the clothes looks almost “Sergio Leone” in origin and all the handguns, with the exception of the Swedish woman’s derringer are long barreled and huge.

These same “hand cannons” are also very, very loud when they go off.

There are some “messages” in the film. The thieving German “author” that Cavendish meets, after running away from the “brute” asks Jay of his journey. The young man tells of the burnt Native American village and the German reacts eloquently:

“A race extinct, their culture banished, their places renamed. Only then will they be viewed with selective nostalgia. Mythologized and romanticized in the safe guise of art…and literature.”

– Werner (Andrew Robertt)

After this grand expression, the two men break bread and when Jays wakes in the morning his host has stolen everything and left. On the ground is an egg on a piece of paper with an arrow drawn on it and the word “West.”

The film is slow but musically so. It has a pace of a slow waltz and at no time is the tale boring. Eclectic and wandering the film includes a funny tale, from the hillbilly bounty hunters, of a hand written wanted poster and a dead bear.

This UK/New Zealand film looks brilliant and entertains almost effortlessly. There may be a big body count (17) but the violence is not overly gory and in at least one instance, is very amusing. Newcomer Caren Pistorius is brilliant as the object of Jodi Smit-McPhee’s character’s affection.

Michael Fassbender looks like a young Burt Lancaster in this film, all square-jawed stubble, and one keeps expecting to hear Lancaster’s voice when the actor speaks. If ever there is a biopic on Lancaster Fassbender should play the man.

The only complaint about the film concerns the accents or lack of them. Cavendish may not sound overly Scottish, but being of the “gentry” he would have been well educated and elocution lessons would have been a matter of course. Fassbender only sounds Irish when he is drunk. Only the Swedish couple and the German have accents that “fit.”

This film is funny, tragic and odd. It is also fun. There are a number of things that are amusing, Rose’s inability to get the butter to set is one. The tiny square of wheat, or rye, outside the cabin during the climatic fight scene another.

*Sidenote* It would be interesting to see if Selleck’s name was chosen because of Tom Selleck’s many Louis L’Amour western roles.

Fans of whimsical and clever films will enjoy and appreciate this splendid looking and entertaining movie. Digitally shot, Slow West looks spectacularly crisp and clear. This is a 5 out of 5 stars film for clever originality and a cracking musical score. The odd “buddy” film should not be missed.

Assassin’s Creed Movie Filming in September With Two Cast Members?

Poster for Assassin's Creed I
I have deliberately avoided reading anything about the upcoming film version of Assassin’s Creed game from Ubisoft. One reason has to do with Nolan North, it is his voice I hear when Miles speaks in my mind, just as it is his verbal utterances I hear when thinking of Nathan Drake, another has to do with the watering down of the game in the franchise. The news that filming is due to commence in September this year, with an apparent cast of two, is surprising to say the least.

Michael Fassbender, whom I’ve been a fan of since the Brit horror film Eden Lake, where he played a chap who did everything wrong early in the film and the equally English TV show Hex, may make a great Desmond Miles, although not as great as Nolan, in my humble opinion. The actor will also, again in my own humble opinion, never top his android David from Prometheus.

As for Marion Cotillard being the female scientist/assistant who aids Desmond? I am not really sure that she is who I envisioned as Lucy in the game. Don’t get me wrong, I love Cotillard, so much in fact that I actually sat down and watched another French film; last year’s Two Days, One Night.

Michael Fassbender via @Pinterist
Michael Fassbender as Desmond Miles?

Another reason I’ve not read paid much attention to the big screen version of the game also has to do with the video game itself.

When Assassin’s Creed first came out, my daughter bought the game from Game in Ipswich. Her Christmas present had been a PlayStation 3, something I knew that I’d get plenty of use from, Dad’s no fool, and when we first plugged the game in, and waited ages for it to upload, we were not too overly impressed with the graphics.

Then my youngster got a better TV, an HD one. When we watched the scenes of Assassin’s Creed unfold on the screen of this new telly, our eyes did not seem big enough to take everything in. The graphics were incredible and so real. The story had already become a favorite, Altair’s fall from grace, his having to start over and the slow realization that not all is as it seems trumped what many called the repetitive game play.

The game spawned a glut of sequels, including the annoying Ezio Auditore who took over as the franchise hero. Even though my love for the game declined with each new version, I miss it. When I moved from England I sold my (sob) UK PS3, and my Xbox. I still have some favorite games, Uncharted, all of them, Assassin’s Creed, et al, all lovingly stored in a box…in the shed…sniffle. I have yet to get a replacement for either of these long lost consoles and it kills me.

For that reason alone, I’ve avoided any talk of games to movies, but also because of Naughty Dog and their Uncharted franchise’s move to film their game’s story. When they initially decided to have the game adapted to the big screen, the company opted to relinquish creative control. While fans of the game expected either Nolan North to play Nathan Drake, or at least Nathan Fillion, the filmmakers had decided to cast Mark Wahlberg as Nate.

IGN mockup of Nathan Fillion as Nathan Drake
Fillion and Drake, 2010 dream casting idea.

After a few choice expletives and OMGs, the news then came that Bradley Cooper was the main choice, Fillion was considered “too old.” On top of all that, it seemed that the film version would also not have Emily Rose as Elena and Sully was to be scrapped in favor of characters who did not exist.

The last word on Uncharted the film, has Seth Gordon down to direct, according to Wikia and while IMDb has the film opening in 2016, there are no cast members listed. Thankfully, Wahlberg’s name is absent.

It will be interesting to see just what the film version of Desmond Miles and his adventures with the Animus will be. Since filming has not started yet, it will also be interesting to see who will wind up in the final cast list. In the meantime, I’ll keep searching for incredibly cheap PS3 and or Xbox replacements, cheap as in free…if you get my drift.

2 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Jonah Hex (2010) Under-viewed, Under-Loved

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I finally got to see this film last night and I will say upfront that, despite having “toe-thumb” and plastically enhanced Megan Fox in it, I kind of liked it. Of course there was a slim chance that I would as it has three of my favourite actors in it; Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, and Michael Fassbender.

I was actually surprised to find that I did like it. The film has been almost universally panned from its release. I am not sure if that is because of die hard fans of the original comic not liking it, or something else. Admittedly the film is a bit choppy in the continuity of story department, but, the prosthetic on Brolin’s face that helped to transform him into Hex was brilliant.

The story, which is based on the DC Comics of the same name, deals with civil war soldier Jonah Hex who refuses a direct order from his commanding officer Quentin Turnbull (Malkovich) that results in his (Turnbull’s) son’s death. As punishment, Turnbull, makes Jonah watch his family die in front of him and gets branded on the right side of his face with Turnbull’s branding iron (QT).

Jonah is nursed back to health by a Crow Native American Indian tribe and his time spent in the world of the dead leaves him with the power to make the dead talk. He searches for Turnbull and finds out that he has died. He then becomes a bounty hunter, punishing the guilty. While doing this job a bounty is put on his head. Meanwhile, we find out that Turnbull is not dead, he’s just gone homicidally mad and is planning to start and finish his own brand of civil war.

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Josh Brolin as Jonah Hex.

I thought all the actors, even Megan Fox as Lilah, did a great job. Their performances sold me on this western/fantasy/action film and I never once felt like I was not enjoying it. This may have something to do with the fact that, apart from the title, I’ve never read the comic. Because of this I did not go into the film expecting anything. I just watched it and rather enjoyed this farfetched fantasy take on the civil war story.

I decided to take a chance on the film when I saw it on sale in my local Tesco Extra Store for £3 (about 5 bucks American) and felt that at such a low price I wouldn’t be out very much if I didn’t like it. But since I did enjoy it, it’s now a bargain. The film looked great, the CG and the scenes leapt out at you and the film looked like a western; a big selling point for me if it’s meant to be a western, cross genre or not.

The really big surprise was that I liked Megan Fox’s character. As a rule there has only been one other film where I really liked her performance and that  was Jennifer’s Body the 2009 horror film. She really doesn’t do much for me, especially after finding out about her plastic overhaul. *Not to mention those “toe-thumbs,” shudder.*

I’d have to say that this fantasy “oater” is a good popcorn munching film of the”mindlessly entertaining” sort. So I’d have to give the film a 4 out of 5 stars for managing to make Megan Fox look good in a film. Of course having Brolin, Malkovich, and Fassbender gives it an extra star as well.

Megan Fox as Lilah.
Megan Fox as Lilah.