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

the-snowman-2017-michael-fassbender

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 Girl on the Train (2016): Gone Girl…Not (Review)

Emily Blunt as Rachel

Directed by Tate Taylor (The Help, Get On Up) from a screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson based on the book of the same name by English author Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train is a splendid mix of layers hidden amongst a myriad of smoke and mirrors. The film has been compared to the 2014 film Gone Girl, but there really is nothing to bring the two together. 

There is a missing woman, which is the big theme in the Gillian Flynn novel and movie. But where the characters in Flynn’s opus are all self centered and obsessed with their own character arcs, Hawkins’ people are all illusion, pain and hidden misery.

No one is as they appear initially. Emily Blunt plays Rachel, the “girl on the train,” who seems to be calm and retrospective. She fantasizes about the young woman she sees from the moving vehicle. On her journey to and from New York, she sees Megan (Haley Bennett) and her husband Scott (Luke Evans) as the “perfect couple.” 

As the film progresses we learn that the couple she “spies” on live right near where she and her ex-husband lived. Justin Theroux plays Tom, Rachel’s ex, and he has a new life with Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and their child Evie. 

The Girl on the Train is a long film that manages to seem much shorter than its nearly two hour running time.  We are lead down a path that twists and turns with each new revelation. Things are seen mainly from Rachel’s point of view but we are also let in on Megan’s state of mind.

Each character in the film has a secret, some hidden on purpose and others via misdirection and at least one character has the truth skewed by someone else. The end of the film, as well as the murder midway through, is surprising.

This drama/mystery/thriller is a perfect whodunit with a trail of confusing  clues that slowly but surely lead us to the killer.  It is only with the final reveal that we learn the truth and on top of it being somewhat heartbreaking for at least two of the characters  it is also shocking.

Not having read the source book by Hawkins it is unclear just how closely Tate and Wilson followed the original storyline. In the end, however, it does not really matter as the film is put together perfectly. We stick with the story, as it unfolds in fits and starts, and we get caught up in each character’s tale.

Blunt may have the best backstory and she manages, with the aid of some brilliant makeup and spot on acting, to utterly convince as the alcoholic with memory problems. She unflinchingly allows the camera to linger on her blotchy complexion and those slightly unfocused eyes. It is a real tour de force performance.

Bennett is sexy, sultry, remote and dissatisfied. It is all too easy to see where her fixation with sex comes from and her need to live in the moment.

Ferguson comes across as the trophy wife who is, like Bennett’s character, a little distant.  She has issues with Blunt’s character and emotes a certain naivety that is both sad and surprising.

Lisa Kudrow makes the most of a crucial cameo as Tom’s old boss and Allison Janney almost steals the show as Detective Riley. 

The Girl on the Train has also been called a “woman’s film” and indeed this story features a microscopic look at the three women featured in the movie. However, the film works on many more levels than just a “chick flick” and as a mystery/thriller hits every single note without one miss.

By the end of the film we care and feel for each major female character. It says a lot about the quality of the script, the acting and the direction that we can empathize with everyone but the one real villain of the piece.

The Girl on the Train is a full 5 star film.  Once one begins watching it, there is no question that it must be finished. The urge to learn the truth amidst all the false clues and misremembered events overwhelms all. Watch this film now and get caught up in the story and its characters.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation – Tom Cruise as Older Ethan Hunt?

It is permissible to hate Tom Cruise a little. Especially when one is a scant four years older than the action star who is still in his “Peter Pan” years at 53. Cruise, in Mission Impossible:Rogue Nation may be a little bit older as Ethan Hunt, but no less limber or attractive to the opposite sex.

Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt

It is permissible to hate  Tom Cruise a little.  Especially when one is a scant four years older than the action star who is still in his “Peter Pan” years at 53. Cruise, in Mission Impossible:Rogue Nation may be a little bit older as Ethan Hunt, but he is no less limber or attractive to the opposite sex.

Cinema goers will not have seen the featurette’s that accompany the DVD release(s) where fans can see Cruise going through the paces and doing his own stunts and not being crippled for days at the mid century mark, but they can rest easy in the knowledge that the over 50 action star does an awful lot of his own work. Or they can purchase the Blu-Ray and if they are older gaze in awe at his years younger lean look.

As easy as it is to be envious of the top notch shape the star is in, or his seemingly indefatigable enthusiasm and energy for the work he does, it is just as pain free to admire the man who has risen again and again to unimaginable heights.  In the Mission Impossible franchise alone, Cruise has almost reinvented what amounts to an American icon.

There have been no less than five of the big screen versions of a 1960s (The show ran from 1966 to 1973.) cult classic spy thriller television show that allowed Peter Graves (the real life brother of Gunsmoke‘s Jame Arness) the chance to weekly do the impossible. With Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, Greg Norris, and other notable names like Leslie Ann Warren and Sid Haig, the show was a fan favorite.

The move to make the transition to the big screen and replace “Mr Phelps” with Ethan Hunt was a smooth one, although Graves as Phelps dies in the first seconds of the first in the franchise, and Tom Cruise then became the new “face ” of the IMF.

Thus endeth the short history lesson of Cruise becoming Hunt.

Each visit to the Mission Impossible verse is slightly different although the “template” is pretty much the same, each film is a mission that should fail. These good guys do not have that word in their vocabulary so by the skin of their teeth, the IMF succeed. Cruise as producer manages to keep each new installment in the franchise  fresh by swapping out directors.

The list of helmsmen for the film’s many iterations are impressive, Brian De Palma, John Woo, J.J.  Abrams, Brad Bird and the last, Christopher McQuarrie all come with impeccable pedigrees.  It could  almost be a “who’s who” of talented directors who bring much to the table and each have left their own stamp on the finished product. The cast had Ving Rhames on board from film one, joined later by Simon Pegg  as Benji (Mission Impossible III) and Jeremy Renner came on board for Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.

Increasingly, Cruise’s Hunt and Pegg’s Dunn have become a double act/team. In many ways it feels as though the Brit entertainer, with so many hats, has taught Cruise a different sort of comedy. While this may seem like the case, in reality it is more a dream team  of performers who each compliment the other when on screen and interacting as a duo.

Hunt has always been portrayed as a capable go-getter who is far removed from a mundane Agent Normal  “everyman” with great toys.  Cruise points out that his character is not a superhero as much as someone who just will not give up. Hunt disregards the impossible and so does his team.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, has its fair share of “comedic” moments. Many of these are interwoven into the action scenes so that one can chuckle nervously while watching the action through spread fingers across the face.  This is the allure of the franchise, Cruise can do subtle action comedy well.

(Anyone who doubts this should watch Edge of Tomorrow, immediately.)

This latest in the franchise has a femme fatale to die for, almost literally, in the shape of one Brit/Swede star who has a passing resemblance to Hollywood legend Ingrid Bergman. Rebecca Ferguson is killer as the tough-as-nails double agent who helps Hunt, kicks bad guy butt with panache and still looks great with wet and bedraggled hair.  That “almost” cut glass accent does not impede any action that this powerful woman need employ.

Perhaps the best thing in the entire film is its elusive villain, Sean Harris. This Bethnal Green lad could have been born to play baddies. From his nightmare inducing character in Creep (2004) to his crack-fueled drug and gun dealer Stretch in Harry Brown (2009) and even his less terrifying scientist in the 2013 film Prometheus, Harris gives every character he inhabits a living truth that is either terrifying, disturbing or annoying. Whatever his roles are, we believe them completely. 

It is Harris as puppet master who makes Hunt look so good. On a sidenote, this third outing as Benji Dunn for Simon Pegg marks an increase of his capabilities as an agent.

The plot, like the music, is a blend of twists and turns that take the viewer on a great roller coaster ride. Car chases that amaze and create a sense of envy (After all, who has not dreamed of driving a muscle car down a long row of steps?) as well as choreographed fight scenes that look spectacular.

Apart from the action and excitement the driving force of the film is that  Ethan has had IMF disbanded by the snotty head of the CIA , Alan Hunley.

Clearly Alec Baldwin (that nice guy that any girl would love to take home to mother in Beetlejuice) can play smarmy douchebags in his sleep, which in no way is a reflection on his personal life, by the way… Baldwin manages to emote pettiness and jealousy from his every pore in the film, while kudos could be in order, one feels that the actor could have “phoned this one in.” Baldwin is just that good at being a douche…

The story jumps from place to place at break neck speed, fans of the franchise get what they want (there is even the obligatory face-mask scene) and everything works well. Hunt may be a bit “klutzier” than usual, but it works as does that marvelous plane stunt with the “wrong door” gag.

Having missed this in the cinemas all that can be said is that it loses little on the smaller “home screen” and that it would have been nice to have more Ving Rhames. McQuarrie as director does a brilliant job, the cinematography is as breathtaking as the stunts and the acting, spot on.

Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt may be that bit older, but it appears that the actor either has a painting in his closet a’la Dorian Gray or his membership with the church that Katie Holmes scarpered from has made some sort of deal…with someone….

If this film does not appear in your stocking from Father Christmas this year, rush down and grab it or stream it. This is 5 star escapist entertainment of the finest sort. Fun to watch with a fizzy drink in one fist while shoving some popcorn into your open mouth with the other. Enjoy.