Troll Hunter

Troll Hunter

Format: Cinema

Release date: 9 September 2011

Venue: UK wide

Director: André Øvredal

Writers: André Øvredal, H&#209vard S. Johansen

Original title: Trolljegeren

Cast: Otto Jespersen, Glenn Erland Tosterud, Johanna M&#248rck, Tomas Alf Larsen, Robert Stoltenberg, Knut Naerum

Norway 2010

103 mins

Troll Hunter, directed by André Øvredal, follows in the mockumentary footsteps of The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity. The odd thing about all those American iterations of the idea (spoof verité footage with a fantastical intrusion from beyond) is how irritating the whiny characters are. Do American filmmakers assume that ‘real people’ are inherently dumb and annoying?

The Norwegians, thankfully, seem fonder of their characters, although admittedly in-depth characterisation isn’t something Troll Hunter concerns itself with. Instead we get understated, deadpan performances, especially from the titular employee of Troll Security Services, Otto Jespersen, an admirably gruff portrayal of a working Joe who decides, more or less on a whim, to blow off the lid of state secrecy concealing from the Norwegian public the existence of gigantic, boulder-eating monsters who can smell the blood of a Christian man…

(For the film’s nearest ancestor, do check out Zak Penn’s Incident at Loch Ness, in which Werner Herzog goes in search of the monster of the loch - and finds it…)

Øvredal’s scenario isn’t exactly bursting with ideas, but it does play imaginatively with its single premise, postulating an ecology and rough social order for its monsters, and exploring just how and why the Norwegian state has managed to keep the public in ignorance (until now). To its credit, the film never gets caught up in trying to make this absurd conceit plausible, and derives a lot of enjoyment from the bare-faced silliness of it all.

The trolls themselves are rather splendid: their design is unapologetically comical, with phallic noses and Highland cow fur for the Mountain Kings, and equally gross and cartoony anatomies for the other sub-species we encounter. But the night vision photography and shaky-cam aesthetic allow these preposterous mooncalves to be cunningly incorporated into the surrounding film, making up in photographic verisimilitude what they signally lack in dignity and credibility. The script cunningly weaves in every ‘fact’ and situation you’re likely to recall from children’s tales, right down to a cameo appearance by the Three Billy Goats Gruff.

Very handsomely photographed amid spectacular Norwegian scenery, all looming mountains and misty meres, Troll Hunter seems destined for cult status, and its likeable, easy-going approach doesn’t outstay its welcome. Enjoy it before the inevitable sequels and Hollywood remake sully its memory.

Troll Hunter screened at the Edinburgh Film Festival in June and was a big hit at FrightFest in August.

David Cairns

Children of the Revolution

Fusako Shigenobu in the Middle East (Children of the Revolution)

Format: DVD + VOD

Release date: 5 September 2011

Distributor: E2 Films

Director: Shane O’Sullivan

Ireland/UK/Germany 2010

92 mins

Children of the Revolution website

Cinematic re-imaginings of 1968 have flooded our screens in recent years to mark the 40th anniversary of the global phenomenon of revolutionary action. Such films are often coloured in a dangerous hue of nostalgia or, even worse, attempt to market their subjects as seductive youths titillated by violence, cheapening the political vigour that drove them. Shane O’Sullivan’s documentary Children of the Revolution is certainly immersed in the same fascinations, yet comes from a different vantage point, offering a unique point of reference: the daughters of the revolution.

Children of the Revolution looks at the immediate aftermath of 1968 in Germany and Japan, from where revolutionary politics burst globally in the 1970s to have a long-lasting impact on our contemporary age. O’Sullivan positions Germany and Japan alongside each other for their shared histories as aggressors in the Second World War, as broken nations in its aftermath and, most importantly for this documentary, as countries that experienced large-scale civil revolt in the 1960s and into the 1970s. Both the Baader-Meinhof Group and the Japanese Red Army, leading activist groups of their respective nations, came up against limitations while operating within their own national borders and broke through internationally, ending up in Palestine to join its liberation movement. Both activist organisations involved women as central leading figures, namely Ulrike Meinhof and Fusako Shigenobu, and O’Sullivan details their personal histories through interviews with their daughters, Bettina Röhl and May Shigenobu, who were born and raised amid the chaos.

Addressing the daughters of the revolution is certainly an inspired choice. Our protagonists inherit the legacies of the revolutionary acts as if they’d been genetically bequeathed, an unavoidable part of their upbringing. Their appearance within the frame immediately elicits considerations of the aftermath of revolutionary action and whether we have a choice in the process of the past influencing our present. Moreover, O’Sullivan rebalances the often male-driven, testosterone-fuelled narratives of revolutionary action by focusing his attention on the female leaders who, in these cases, were not just participants, but leaders of the rebellion.

What is extraordinary about Children of the Revolution is the daughters’ differences of opinion about their mothers’ involvement in revolutionary politics. As journalists, both Bettina and May have a remarkable ability to critically observe a history so intertwined with their upbringing, yet have come to distinct conclusions. Although they don’t represent their respective nations’ standpoints, it hints at the fact that the way in which history enters the collective consciousness varies in each country. With both historical narratives fraught with factual complexity and incomplete chronicles, it was a brave decision for O’Sullivan to tackle both in one film; and, at least for this writer, a worthwhile choice if only for the revelations that emerge through comparative study.

The DVD release includes a re-edited version of Shane O’Sullivan’s previous documentary Under the Skin (2002), with an interview with revolutionary filmmaker Masao Adachi added to the impressive list of speakers, which includes Toshio Matsumoto, Kôji Wakamatsu, graphic designer Tadanori Yokoo and critic Donald Richie, to introduce Japan’s 1960s counterculture and the politics that bound it. Although less focused, it is a generous companion piece to Children of the Revolution and reveals O’Sullivan’s growth as a documentary filmmaker.

Julian Ross

Watch the trailer:

Children of the Revolution trailer from E2 Films on Vimeo.

Black Heaven

Directed by Gilles Marchand from a script co-written with Dominik Moll (who gave us the brilliant Harry, He’s Here To Help), Black Heaven follows a young man’s obsessive descent into a dark world of suicide pacts and dangerous games after he and his girfriend stumble upon a lost mobile phone. Black Heaven is released on DVD by Arrow Films on 5 September 2011.

Comic review by Liam Cobb
For more information on Liam Cobb, go to his website.

Days of Heaven

Days of Heaven

Format: Cinema

Screening dates: 2-30 September 2011

Venue: BFI Southbank

Director: Terrence Malick

Writer: Terrence Malick

Cast: Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard, Linda Manz

USA 1978

94 mins

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This review contains spoilers.

Days of Heaven is almost perfect. Almost to the point of being too beautiful, it is gorgeously photographed, much of it in the ‘magic hour’ between dusk and sunset, with stunning shots of the landscape and natural features. (In the Philippines, the film was released with the title Wheat: the Movie.) Ennio Morricone’s music, taking as his inspiration Carnival of the Animals: Aquarium by Camille Saint-Sa&#235ns, which opens and closes the film, is both luscious and frightening. The acting is subtle and intelligent: the young Richard Gere and Brooke Adams, both of whom boasted Kojak episodes and not much else on their film acting CVs, and Sam Shephard, who hadn’t even done Kojak, having worked, like Gere, mostly in theatre up to that point. The writing is witty, the story is told with a beguiling simplicity and the period is meticulously realised, not only in farming equipment and costume, but in attitudes and faces.

So why almost perfect? Why not perfect? I would argue (irritatingly, I know) that Terrence Malick consciously defies perfection. The whole point of the film is imperfection, the unsustainability of heaven on earth and the tragic consequences that come from such overreaching ambition.

Bill (Gere) and Abby (Adams), with Abby’s sister Linda (Linda Manz), escape from Chicago after Bill has been involved in a fight. From the very get-go, there is ambiguity and ambivalence. Linda’s voice-over makes no mention of the fight (which may or may not have resulted in murder) and instead frames their escape more as a quest in search of adventure. Her comments will consistently tell us things that seem out of joint with what we are seeing. Her final comments, which close the film, seem to be about Abby but are actually referring to a marginal character whom she has just happened across.

The biggest niggle, the central tragic niggle from which all else flows, is Bill and Abby’s ruse to pose as brother and sister. It is reminiscent of the kind of cockeyed shenanigans in which Martin Sheen’s Kit indulges in Malick’s debut feature Badlands, faking his own signature to avoid other people copying it. The inexplicable deception is part and parcel of Bill’s character. He works in the Chicago steel mill and later the wheat fields dressed in an entirely inappropriate white overcoat (in the shooting script he boasts a cane and hat as well). He is a man at odds with his position in the world, at one point running away to join a circus. The ploy leads to the hoodwinking of the rich farmer, a ghostly Sam Shephard, who marries Abby and invites Bill and Linda to move in with them. However, the farmer is not simply a victim. No one else is fooled by Bill and Abby’s deception. Bill fights a man who asks him if his sister keeps him warm at night and the farmer’s grandfatherly foreman cottons on immediately, even if he lacks proof. In fact, the farmer and Bill are both adept at, and apparently needful of, self-deception: one’s existence grimly limited by poverty and the other’s by loneliness and an imminent death.

The most powerful emotional moment in the film comes with Bill’s realisation that Abby now loves the farmer and is irretrievably lost to him. For once, the hot head does not lose his temper and woefully, but maturely admits, ‘I’ve got no one to blame but myself’. This is an admission that Kit would never have been able to make (but one that Colin Farrell later echoes in The New World) and so it is with a formidable dose of tragic irony that Abby and Bill find themselves in Badlands for the rest of the film. This is tragic irony in the classical sense. The farmer spies conclusive evidence of a love affair between Bill and Abby, whereas what he is a witness to is the conclusion of that affair and, strangely (if only he knew it), his victory.

Abby and Bill’s flight is a gloomy shadow of the sunny adolescent running away of Badlands. The love affair is over by the time they flee and, dressed in her widow weeds, Abby is pulled along uncertainly. Bill and Abby are both doomed and it is left to Linda to escape the stultifying conformity of a girl’s school, complete with ballet class. For her it’s going to be cigarettes and meandering. The perfection sought by a finishing school just doesn’t feel right.

More information on the BFI website.

John Bleasdale

The Story of Film

The Story of Film

Format: TV

Series 1, episode 1

Date: 3 September 2011

Time: 9:15pm

Channel: More4

More info on the Channel4 website

Unparalleled in scope, The Story of Film: An Odyssey marks the completion of a labour of love for writer and filmmaker Mark Cousins. Five years in the making and covering six continents and 12 decades of cinema, it is, as Cousins describes, a ‘love letter’ to the medium. The origin of the project was Cousins’s best-selling book of the same name. One of the few truly indispensable film publications of the last decade, the book showed how filmmakers are influenced both by the historical events of their times and by each other.

Opening with a quote from Lauren Bacall proclaiming that ‘the industry is shit. It’s the medium that’s great’, Cousins determinedly avoided any discussion of the industry per se, showing no interest in box office, marketing or any other part of the hullabaloo that goes hand in hand with any art form that is also a business. In doing so Cousins, whose past activities include a celebrated stint as the Festival Director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival and presenting the late, lamented Moviedrome, produced an invaluable guide to some of the forgotten treasures of cinema and some of the figures whose work has been obscured by what is unarguably a Westernised history of filmmaking. Those unfamiliar with the cinema of central Asia and Africa will find themselves particularly surprised by the great and often unsung contributions the two continents have made to the film lexicon.

Unspooling over a 15-part series, The Story of Film argues that innovation is at the heart of movie history (the contention that ‘money doesn’t drive movies, ideas do’ are the words of a romantic purist but we should forgive him for that) and extends the central thesis of the book to reveal the true and frequently forgotten global pioneers of filmmaking. As an opening salvo Cousins declares the history of cinema as we understand it to be by its very nature ‘exclusionist and racist’. Revealing how these incredibly influential figures drove cinema forward, Cousins films each section of the story in a different country, visiting many of the key sites in the history of cinema, from Hollywood to Mumbai, from Hitchcock’s London to the village where Pather Panchali was shot. Cousins’s globetrotting gives a potent, illuminating and often rather moving reminder that, though fictive, movies are very much a product of the real world and therefore reflective of our hopes, dreams and aspirations. Cinema, as Cousins points out, is pivotal in shaping how we feel, love, look and hope.

Anyone familiar with the pioneering Scene by Scene series will recall that Mark Cousins is an exceptionally skilled and intuitive interviewer and the ‘cast’ of The Story of Film is mightily impressive. Stanley Donen, Kyoko Kagawa, Gus Van Sant, Lars von Trier, Claire Denis, Bernardo Bertolucci, Robert Towne, Jane Campion, Wim Wenders and Claudia Cardinale are just a handful of the legendary filmmakers, actors and writers that offer insightful commentary over a series of extended interviews. The use of archive clips is extensive, exemplary and quietly inspiring and while the programme presents an illustrated story of film it also manages to be a particularly accomplished and technically adroit piece of filmmaking in its own right.

Since the disappearance from our screens of programmes such as Moving Pictures there has been little air time given to a consideration of cinema that extends beyond celebrity tittle-tattle and a cinematic border that ends with the Hollywood hills. Invigorating and intelligent, The Story of Film is also remarkably accessible and entertaining and should fulfil the absolutely imperative task of engaging younger, inquisitive minds as well as more seasoned academics. Touring numerous international film festivals, the series gets a prime-time Saturday evening slot at 9:15pm on More4 from September 3. Make a date, and don’t dare break it.

Jason Wood

Kill List

Kill List

Format: Cinema

Release date: 2 September 2011

Distributor: Studiocanal

Director: Ben Wheatley

Writers: Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley

Cast: Neil Maskell, Michael Smiley, MyAnna Buring, Emma Fryer

UK 2011

95 mins

Ben Wheatley’s second feature was one of the most eagerly awaited offerings at Film4 FrightFest on the August bank holiday weekend. Wheatley’s debut, Down Terrace, was a festival hit two years ago, and deservedly so. Tightly written, finely observed and darkly humorous, it mixed dysfunctional family drama with criminal elements in a refreshing take on the tired British gangster genre.

Kill List similarly combines gritty realism and crime film, but adds a sinister cult to the mix, not entirely wisely. It begins like a kitchen sink drama about the life of a work-shy hitman, Jay, who has blazing rows with his worried wife Shel and a son to provide for. Over a dinner party, his friend and partner Gal manages to convince him to go back to work. But as they go through their client’s kill list, Jay is shaken by what they discover about their targets and becomes increasingly psychotic, his violent behaviour fuelled by self-righteous moral indignation.

As in Down Terrace, the character study, the observation of family dynamics and male friendship, and the excellent dialogue are utterly compelling. But the introduction of the cult element seems unnecessary and unoriginal and does not quite blend with the rest of the story. It is never explained fully, and although mystery and ambiguity are entirely desirable in a film, it is not evocative enough to fire up the imagination. Despite this and an ending that feels tacked on, Kill List is thoroughly engaging for most of its running time and Ben Wheatley is clearly a talent to watch.

Virginie Sélavy

Watch the trailer: