Oslo, August 31st (2011)

Oslo, August 31 (2011) movie poster

director Joachim Trier
viewed: 03/27/2013

I found myself once again in this weird, unpleasant situation.  I put the DVD into the machine (the DVD that I queued up and ordered from Netflix).  The movie starts, then slowly or quickly or somehow, I start to wonder “why did I rent this movie?”    It’s not a question that you want to find yourself pondering while watching something.  It sort of calls into question what you are doing with your life?  I could have been reading, socializing.  I could have been watching something more interesting, more important, more meaningful.  Why did I rent a movie about a recovering Norwegian heroin addict, who is having a bummer of a day after getting released from treatment?  Why did that interest me?  What sounded “good” about it?  Who am I to think that this was a good idea?

Luckily, it’s only me paying for this minor mistake.

Oslo, August 31 actually got good reviews.  I’m always on the lookout for films that sound good or interesting.  I put them in my queue, knowing that I probably won’t see them in the cinema.  When they get released on DVD, they pop into the bottom of my Netflix queue, and often, with new releases, I move them to the top.  Sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes they malinger.  Sometimes I delete them.

This is a downer of a movie about a heroin addict, facing Oslo, facing reality, facing a world he doesn’t believe in.  We don’t know all that much about him.  He’s ruined his parents finances so they had to sell their home.  His sister doesn’t want to see him face to face.  The girl that he may or may not be in love with him won’t take his phone calls.

The guy who plays him, Anders Danielsen Lie, isn’t a bad actor necessarily.  But he’s not a compelling one.  This is the kind of film that Gus Van Sant could make and even if it was still a major bummer, he would cast a beautiful young person and he could evoke his world’s surreal reality and tragedy in some magical, relatable way.  Director Joachim Trier tries. And fails.

The earlier into a film that I find myself wondering why I chose to watch it is a sign of my own impending misery, albeit temporary.  And maybe it is as it should be that it makes me question my own life.

Headhunters (2011)

Headhunters (2011) movie poster

director Morten Tyldum
viewed: 09/03/2012

Headhunters is a Norwegian crime thriller, which I would suggest as a sort of post-Pulp Fiction (1994) sense of comedy, irony and gruesome violence to stretch its genre conventions.  Adapted from the novel, Hodejegerne, by Jo Nesbø, it’s had a popular run in both Norway and in the states, and is unsurprisingly being re-adapted for an American remake.

It’s the story of a top recruiter or “headhunter,” Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie), who leads a double life as an art thief, all to support his big blond trophy wife.  When he ends up crossing the wrong client, things head south in a series of brutal, surprising twists (which I’ll try not to reveal here).  He goes pretty far afield in what turns out to be a brutal, at times comic, series of events.

Ultimately, it’s the story of a painstakingly refined hot shot who has carved himself a slick life who learns how fragile his situation is.  Not just fragile, but a hair’s breadth above hell.  He ultimately comes to learn a thing or two about himself and his life…or does he?  The thing about Roger Brown is that, like the bland falseness of his name, he’s not a terrible sympathetic character.  He’s shallow, self-important, and glib.  He kind of deserves whatever comes of him in the bad ways that it does.  And so throughout the film, he’s hard to root for.  Maybe he’s not meant to be that sympathetic, but as a character painted in that way, it leaves a level of distance as he falls down the rabbit hole.

The other characters are sort of flat as well, so maybe it is some aspect of failing on the film.  When it’s at its best, it is unflinchingly brutal, featuring some pretty funny plot turns.  For my money, it’s okay, not great, not bad, nothing to write home about.



Trollhunter (2010) movie poster

(2010) director André Øvredal
viewed: 09/08/2011

A sort of Norwegian The Blair Witch Project (1999) about giant mountain trolls, Trollhunter isn’t utterly run-of-the-mill.  It’s neither completely comic nor completely serious, as it delves into the secret hidden creatures of Norway’s beautiful, isolated outlying wilderness.  And a little bit of Norse mythology to boot.

The “found footage” faux documentary thing is even more tired that modern 3-D.  But that’s how they went about this one.  It opens with some inter-titles saying that this was literally “found” footage, that no one knows what happened the the college students who find the titular, lonesome troll-hunter and follow him around watching him dispatch the nocturnal giants.

They either turn to stone or explode when hit with UV rays, which is the primary weapon of the troll-hunter.  And there is a government conspiracy to keep all these creatures under wraps.

Really, it takes little to no questioning of these plot points to get through the plot holes and concepts.  But what do you want with a movie about giant trolls?  They are all kind of throw-back designs from illustrations of trolls (they are not the big-bright-haired kewpie doll trolls…though that could have been hilarious.)  Actually, it’s kind of interesting how the films was well-received in its homeland.  Because it certainly is an oddity of some proportion here.

The landscapes are rugged, wild, amazing.  It does work as a bit of a coup for the tourism boards of Norway.  I don’t need a troll, but I’d love to see some of those mountains, rivers, and waterfalls.

Dead Snow

Dead Snow (2009) movie poster

(2009) dir. Tommy Wirkola
viewed: 02/26/10

When you’ve seen one Norwegian Nazi zombie movie, you’ve seen ’em all.

That said, it’s not all that often these come along.

Dead Snow, I think I just summarized it reasonably well for you, is your typical horror genre film, a bunch of young people in an isolated cabin (in this case in the Norwegian mountains, which are quite beautiful), and the stirring of stolen Nazi gold, hidden away for decades, brings to life an army of zombie German soldiers leftover from WWII.  You know how that can happen.

The film is a pretty by-the-book affair despite the premise, but with a lot of fairly gory blood-letting and a few gruesome surprises.  Director Tommy Wirkola seems to have a particular penchant for intestines.  In fact, the film’s most novel point has one of the vacationing medical students hanging by some stretched-out intestine of a defeated Nazi zombie, dangling over a cliff while he battles another of the creatures.

Beyond that, there is something aesthetic about the Nazi zombies in their military regalia, stark against the snow.  Maybe aesthetic in some video game sort of way, something gruesome and absurd, yet titilating.

While there is obviously some subtext here, these hidden, lost Nazis, both historical and literal among the outlying reaches of clean and modern Scandanavia could carry some weight.  But in the end, that’s about all the subtext there is.  Only one of the campers has a 1/4 of Jewish blood somewhere and the film isn’t too bothered with Nazi evils other than greed pretty much.  Certainly, there’s that.  But in the end, they’re just nattily-clad zombies, who work together as a military group might, with the aim of dismembering the young and old alike.  Like I said, you know how that can happen.