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Entries in Iceland (7)

Sunday
Sep072014

TIFF Scandinavian Quickies: Force Majeure, Life in a Fishbowl, Out of Nature

Nathaniel's adventures in Toronto. Day 2...

Part of Day 3's adventure was losing the internet and not being able to recover an entire review I'd written. With time so short that feels more disastrous than it actually is. But since Day 2 was just great from start to finish we won't let Day 3's mistakes -- I also fell asleep unintentionially for 2 hours -- distract us from the goal: sharing it with you.

Life in a Fishbowl (Iceland)
I am told on Twitter that "Life in a Fishbowl" is a terrible English market title and that the title of the film in Icelandic is actually Hope Street. Unless that's a the adress of a nearly empty home which preoccupies two of the three leads, that title is even more perplexing since these characters are quite unhappy. "Life in a Fishbowl" is the name of a novel within the film (as I recall... though perhaps that was just a subtitle flourish?). It's a multi-strand narrative wherein the characters are all connected in some way. If this fills you with as much terror as it does me, rest assured that the movie doesn't strain for "twists" or "ooh, that's how they connect!" moments of faux profundity but just tells it's three stories which eventually intertwine. We meet a handsome athlete turned banker who is being showered with gifts from his new company. (We know that these gifts will come with a hefty price even if he doesn't since he is a movie character and we have seen lots of movies.) We also follow a local celebrity poet stumbling drunk around the city who has just finished his first novel in many years but who is perpetually drowning, figuratively speaking, and not just in drink. Finally there's a struggling single mother who earns her extra cash as a prostitute.

There's nothing particularly new or grandly ambitious here which makes the film's rather rapturous blurbs from home "best icelandic film ever" puzzling. Still, it's quite engrossing with a novelistic feel and amounts to a big leap forward for the director Baldwin Z (Jitters). [This film is Iceland's Oscar submission and though it's good, it's not half as distinctive as their great submission last year, Of Horses and Men.] B/B+

A great Oscar threat and a fine manly ass after the jump...

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Sep022014

Iceland, Norway, and Foreign Chart Updates

We travel now overseas to two of my all-time favorite places on Earth. I lived in Norway many years ago (and went back for the first time just last summer for my birthday). And Iceland is just about my favorite vacation spot  these days. Well, okay, I've only been there twice but I'm eager for a third. It's so otherworldly beautiful. If you saw Land Ho! this summer (reviewed), that sweet comedy is basically one long commercial for booking a flight to Reykjavik, post-haste.

NORWAY
The land of the midnight sun has chosen three finalists for consideration for Oscar submission and I write this prematurely since they'll name their official pick tomorrow. I'll be travelling to Toronto so you might hear before I do. The race is between these three films: Bent Hamer's 1001 Grams, which premieres in Toronto, a romantic drama about a female scientist who travels to Paris and falls for a Frenchmen; Hisham Zaman's Letter to the King an immigrant drama about five refugees who travel to Oslo; and finally Eskil Vogt's Blind, about a blind woman with a potent imagination and a troubled marriage. I loved this film at Sundance so I hope they pick it. Vogt is the co-screenwriter of Joachim Trier's beautiful and highly acclaimed movies Reprise and Oslo August 31st. This is Vogt's first time in the director's chair and it turns out he's got quite an eye as well as a tongue.

ICELAND
They've narrowed it down to four films: Paris of the North, Life in a Fishbowl (which is playing in Toronto) Metalhead, and Harry & Heimir. My friend A.D. (who you also may know as Dzong2) who cowrites the Oscar charts in this category with me, suspects its between Life in a Fishbowl which is extremely popular at home and Paris of the North (which recently played Karlovy).

I'm betting on Life in a Fishbowl due to its spectacular hometown reviews. When you get blurbs like "The Best Icelandic Film In History" and "The Golden Age of Icelandic Cinema Has Begun" and such, people don't just like you - they're obsessed. 

NEW OFFICIAL SUBMISSIONS:  Sweden has chosen Force Majeure (also known as Turist) which made a good splash at Cannes; Finland has chosen Concrete Night; Estonia is submitting a film called Tangerines; Croatia has chosen Cowboys as its submission, Serbia has chosen See You in Montevideo; Luxembourg went with Never Die Young; Venezuela and The Phillipines are also down to just a few films so they'll announce soon. You can read about them all at the Oscar charts which have been fully updated as of today.

UPDATE 11:18 PM: Venezuela has just finished voting and chose the historical drama "The Liberator" in a tight race with the gay-themed poverty drama about a boy and his mother called "Bad Hair" (of which I am a huge fan)

Wednesday
Jan222014

Sundance: 'Land Ho!' Proves Aaron Katz is America's Next Great

Sundance coverage continues with Glenn musing on the career of Aaron Katz and his latest, Land Ho!

"Mumblecore", the term given to the influx of super low-budget independent films with a rotating core of creatives, cops a lot of grief these days. I assume it's mostly from people sick of Lena Dunham’s ubiquity (she wrote/directed/starred in the incredible Tiny Furniture) or people just getting sick from the home-spun, handheld aesthetic that beset many of the movement’s features. Personally, I love that we now have the likes of Greta Gerwig, Lynn Shelton (who’s at Sundance again this year with Laggies) and Joe Swanberg amongst others. The brightest star to my eyes, however, is Aaron Katz, the 32-year-old American director who directed the woozy, boozy, teenage coming-of-age drama Dance Party USA and the deliciously cheeky Sherlock riff Cold Weather. He returns with Land Ho!, co-directing alongside Martha Stephens (Pilgrim Song), and proves that he is indeed one of America’s next greats and perhaps my favourite working American director.

Land Ho! is a simple film, but never simplistic. It’s certainly not as high-concept as Cold Weather, but it weaved an enchanting spell over me with its tale of two friends, Colin and Mitch, taking a late-in-life vacation through the wilds of Iceland. Paul Eenhoorn of the equally beguiling This is Martin Bonner stars with Earl Lynn Nelson in only his third (!) film, and your enjoyment of the film rests quite heavily on their shoulders. Eerhoorn’s delicate, friendly style is such a beauty to watch and the film’s latter passage as the re-invigoration of Colin literally comes bubbling to the surface in a hot spring is such an effective, richly portrayed sequence that's a wonder to watch. Nelson, also good, unfortunately has the lesser of the two-hander, although his randy senior citizen act results in many genuinely funny moments.

I can’t speak for Martha Stephens of which this is the first film I have seen, but Aaron Katz is just about the bee’s knees right now. I respond so strongly to his stripped back, but emotionally vibrant and visually effervescent approach to his material. It would be hard to make Iceland look ugly, but with Land Ho! it is filmed so lovingly by Katz’s frequent cinematographer, Andrew Reed, that is reveals an entirely new beauty. An argument scene between the two men lit only by the hovering radiance of nightclub glowsticks is a particularly striking image that I’ll likely not soon forget. The soundtrack, too, is a total winner with scenes punctuated by somewhat anachronistic – and yet totally right – electronic music including the film’s unofficial anthem, “In a Big Country”.

Compared to another former mumblecore-adjacent director’s Sundance return, Alex Ross Perry and Listen Up Phillip, Katz and Stephen’s Land Ho! isn’t a particularly revelatory creative step forward. However, what it has are rare virtues that will likely strike at viewers in a truly genuine, earnest place that cinema rarely ventures. It’s a sublime film, wonderfully styled, and one that makes me entirely confident in announcing Katz as one American cinema’s most vital, invigorating, and masterful modern voices.

Grade: A-
Distribution: Was just picked up this morning by Sony Pictures Classics for worldwide release in 2014. Let’s start that best original song ball rolling for this dizzying ditty by Keegan DeWitt.

Sunday
Dec222013

Do You Find "Inspirational" Films Comforting or Pandering? 

Something a little off the traditional awards path hit a few days ago which I've failed to discuss: The Heartland Moving Picture Award. The list comes from a non-profit group that aims to promote what some (i.e. jaded critics like, um, maybe myself) might dismiss as "pandering inspiration for the whole family!".  Or at least that's how I was prepared to dismiss it when I saw Saving Mr Banks and 42 were up to. I like Mr Banks but that spoonful of sugar is more a bowlful and I'll admit I didn't make it all the way through the baseball drama from the sweaty handholding to make sure I was INSPIRED. But then I noticed that my beloved Short Term 12 and Alexander Payne's Nebraska on there, and both are a little thornier. So I decided to stop being such a tough customer and appreciate/share this list after the jump

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Dec152013

Podcast: Awards Week Blowout Special

Nathaniel is back from his Iceland trip and going regional with JoeNick, and Katey for a one hour discussion of the barrage of film critics prizes from New York, Detroit, Boston and San Diego. And another thing: are LA's "ties" okay with this panel? 

Afterwards we pick on the Screen Actors Guild and their bizarre All is Lost joke (no Redford in actor but a stunt ensemble nomination when there's only one character and Redford did his own stunts?!)  and the team splits on the quality of Rush, recently resurgent thanks to SAG. Then we're on to the  Golden Globes for a discussion of the troublesome Comedy/Drama divide (read Joe's article for context) and we pick the best and worst of their nominees.

Also discussed: Jennifer Lawrence's backlash, Greta Gerwig's surprise, Forest Whitaker's acting, Leonardo DiCaprio's elusiveness, 12 Years a Slave's power, Philomena's luck, Dallas Buyers Club's ensemble, Wolf of Wall Street's editing, and Fruitvale Station's potential.

You can listen here or download the conversation on iTunes

Awards Week Blowout

Sunday
Jan062013

Drowning in Oscary Waters All Over the World

It's less than 4 days until we're drowning in it! I was called to task a bit for the tsunami image from The Impossible that greeted my first "days until" Oscar nominations post a week ago. I understand the charge of insensitivity and I'll admit it was a weird judgment call. But I have been feeling not just metaphorically deluged. There is so much literal fear or water / drowning on screens this film season. Have any of you noticed? It didn't hit me at first since it's not a particularly visceral fear for me... I've always loved the water.

Let's recount each dive in this year...

If Steven Soderbergh had filmed Life of Pi this would be the entire color palette!

  • Beasts of the Southern Wild -for Hushpuppy drowning is the end of the world, hurricanes as apocalypse. Those shots of drowned animals and her thoughts about them having no daddies? Heartbreaking. 
  • The Impossible - tells a true story of survival from the 2004 Thai tsunami. I still think it odd that it's visual effects and makeup did not make the finalists list for Oscars.
  • Skyfall -Adele's killer theme song kicks in just as James Bond plunges into the water, presumably to rest in a watery grave... or at least to sink into the trippy watery grave visuals of the opening credits
  • Oslo August 31st - this critical darling drama about an addict in recovery basically begins with the protagonist going all Virginia Woolf by loading his pockets with rocks and walking out into the water
  • Life of Pi - at the center of an ungainly expository drama, is a miniature visual masterpiece about a shipwreck and a tiger and boy sharing a boat alone in the vastness of the ocean
  • Jeff Who Lives at Home - stacks its coincidences one on top of the other to lead to a drowning rescue scene
  • The Dark Knight Rises -- death by exile (SPOILER) exile being an icy watery grave
  • Rise of the Guardians -- begins with an icy drowning
  • Moonrise Kingdom features a big storm and flood
  • Amour - has flooding but in which context we shouldn't say
  • Rust & Bone - Marion Cotillard loses her legs in a killer whale accident in France's Sea World and there is also a drowning terror sequence
  • Zero Dark Thirty -the waterboarding torture sequence is what keeps everyone talking though it's a tiny part of the movie. But still: horrific.

 

Last night, the Film Society at Lincoln Center showed two of the foreign language finalists (sort of*), Iceland's The Deep and Norway's Kon-Tiki, a double bill that was the equivalent of being tossed into the deep-end of this reccurrent theme. Both are true stories about men surviving the unsurvivable on ocean journeys. 

Iceland's Oscar entry The Deep comes from Baltasar Kormakur (of 101 Rejkvjavik, Hafid/The Sea, and Contraband fame). It's both poetically moody and crudely matter of fact somehow. It's steeped in the inky blackness you'd expect from an ocean story at night. (I'm so pleased my screener didn't work because I can't imagine being able to see it at all outside of the movie theater). Hell, even before we hit the water we're in Iceland at night so you can image the darkness. We follow a group of fishermen around as they drink and drink prior to their next voyage. The awful shipwreck occurs relatively early into the movie and for such a simple reason it's surprising that any fishermen live to die from old age. The drowning sequences were, for me, horrific in their calmness, like watching people casually negated as the darkness envelops them. The Deep unfortunately loses its frost-bitten footing  post-ocean trauma when there's a surprising amount of the movie left and we move into a sort of barely there invegistave procedura. But I appreciated The Deep for being very Icelandic (memories of volcanic eruption and a harsh life on the inky sea inform the drama throughout) and as a sort of shoestring non-magical-realist counterpoint to Life of Pi when a fat man begins to converse with a seagull, his only company.

Thor Heyerdhal (the real version) and Thor Heyerdahl (the movie version) played by Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen Norway's entry Kon-Tiki dramatizes the once very famous balsa wood raft ocean voyage of Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl. I say 'once' because two of my friends in their 20s that I spoke to about the movie had no idea who he was or that it was a true story. I knew the whole story from childhood since my parents had a thing for National Geographic magazines (we had a huge collection) and PBS documentaries -- I think I must have even seen Heyerdahl's self-mythologizing Oscar winning doc Kon-Tiki as a child at some point since the story was so familiar.

I sat down all excited to see the most expensive Norwegian movie ever made about one of the most famous Norwegians who ever lived about a story I knew and was immediately disappointed when everyone began speaking in English -- even in scenes set in Norway or between an entire cast of Norwegians (and one Swede). We definitely got off on the wrong foot this movie and I. As it turns out the filmmakers shot each scene twice, once in Norwegian and once in English and the version that's hitting Stateside theaters is, in fact, NOT the Oscar-competing film but it's English-language doppelganger. So most of us will never get to see the film that Oscar voters saw.

I came for a Norwegian adventure movie and got a strange hybrid film that seemed like a big budget Disney movie that had appropriated a foreign story. Maybe the acting was better in its native tongue? There was something about the coloring book simplistic character arcs and super accessible Movie-Movieness that made this very true story feel artificial, negating much of its power. As eye candy, though, the movie is really something, with the amazing beauty of both the Ocean and towheaded shirtless Norwegians exploited throughout. (And just like The Deep it makes an interesting counterpoint to Life of Pi . As in Ang Lee's picture there are scenes featuring bioluminscent marine biology, violent animal deaths, and mass flying fish suicides on a boat). C+