Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Today’s reviews are all linked by a common theme of corporate mischief. I feel myself aging a little when I realise how many MIFF films I’ve sat through which have devoted valuable screen time to breaking down spread sheets, detailed discussions of share fluctuations, comparing interest rates for loans and generally caressing me into a state of torpor. It’s not like any of these flicks are remarkably bad since none hurt me so much as to invoke an instinctual fight-or-flight response, but I have to wonder if today’s screenwriters aren’t wooing potential investors with promises of high-thrills MYOB action and sexy accountants explaining how the collateral proposed as guarantee for a 30% equity-based funding allowance is enough to get them hot and bothered. All of the films in question were thrillers or horror numbers, by the way. Let’s get into it.


The Last Winter is what you’d get if Al Gore directed John Carpenter’s The Thing. Set in an Alaskan mining outpost, it sets up that same claustrophobic atmosphere to a much less stunning effect. An environmentalist sent to assess the damage being done to the local ecosphere goes head to head with the corporate dudes who want to keep pillaging our natural resources, then everyone starts getting killed off by some creature. There’s probably some deep, chin-scratching message about how nature will enact revenge if we keep treatin’ her so mean, but I think most members of the audience are hoping nature will turn out to be a big gross monster.

There’s some talk in the film about the monster being a Wendigo, which got me going since I love the only other Wendigo-centric film I’ve seen, the highly worthy Ravenous. If you haven’t seen that one, you should go out right now and find it. If you can’t afford it, raid your kid’s piggy bank and if you don’t have kids, quickly find a mate, conceive, give birth to and rear one just so you can sneak into their room, steal and smash their prized money holder and then bury it in the yard before explaining “Honey, I don’t understand, you never had a piggy bank…” tomorrow morning. Then grab a copy of Ravenous.

The score to Ravenous was done by Damon Albarn and Michael Nyman, which should be recommendation enough. But then again, I think it’s one of those films where one element, the score in this case, is enough to forgive any other shortcomings the rest of the piece has. With The Last Winter, it was actually filmed in Iceland (not Alaska) and since I’m so enthralled by that country, I gave TLS a little more credit than it might be due. It’s an ok environmental thriller, but you do feel a little cheated at the end. Unless you want some nice Icelandic scenery. And lots and lots of corporate talk.


It’s usually no more than ten minutes into a movie that I’m quietly asking myself if the main character is actually dead this whole time. It’s an inconvenient truth that I can’t help, and only realised during one of the films of the past half-week. Thinking about it, I’ve pondered the possibility during the following films:

Ils, The Last Winter, Exit, Yella, Severance, The Mourning Forest and Exterminating Angels.

I’ll let you know now that in one of these films, the main character IS actually dead, and my precognition made me deeply angry for spending so long anticipating the obvious ending. It’s sad that I consider the possibility of protagonist-deadness so often, but it’s gotten to the point in modern filmmaking where it would be a surprise if any kind of mystery or drama to an unfolding plot wasn’t solved that way.

I have other things I check off during a film: Is the girl really a guy? Is someone unhealthily obsessed by their childhood sleigh? Will that guy be killed by a red-coated midget in Venice with no forewarning or explanation offered? Admittedly, these questions, when applied to most films, actually enhance the viewing pleasure.

But “they were dead all along”? And I thought “It was all a dream…” had a bad rap.

So, at the end of this post I’ll note which film is worth avoiding if you really can’t stand this kind of “twist”. At the same time, the central character who occupies most of the screen time is really, really attractive throughout, and becomes the equivalent of a Damon Albarn-Michael Nyman score or the landscape of Iceland in that they counterbalance the, ahem, problems of the piece. Perhaps.

And so now, here are the nominees.

Olivia Bonamy (Ils)

James leGros (The Last Winter)

Mads Mikkelsen (Exit)

Nina Hoss (Yella)

Laura Harris (Severance)

Machiko Ono (The Mourning Forest)

(The irritating dude in Exterminating Angels)

ONE OF THESE PEOPLE IS DEAD, PEOPLE. DEEEEAAAADDDD! In the film, at least. Spoiler at the end of this post, as mentioned. Now on with the show.


Billed as “The Office meets Deliverance”, this film is exactly that. If you plonked Ricky Gervais and his wince-inducing TV cohorts down in the woods of Eastern Europe, had them hunted by nasty villains and killed off in increasingly yucky but equally comical ways, you have Severance. This is Shaun of the Dead up a notch, since it’s not got the zombie factor going on but goes for real life ickiness, but the comedy does go a long way to ease the bitter-beer face you might otherwise expect.

A corporate retreat takes a bad turn. The company we’re faced with here are a group who develop and sell military hardware, and on a team-bonding weekend in the woods of a small nation suddenly find themselves targeted by the people they’ve trained and armed to the teeth. Bear-trap, flamethrower and landmine-based fun ensues.

Like Hostel and the rest, this film won’t be doing much for Balkan tourism. But commendably, the women in the piece don’t face graphic violence, the most rictus-inducing moments going towards men you don’t mind seeing dead. And yes, there are bits that will actually have group audiences expressing their response in unison. But the filmmakers understand the thin red line between horror and comedy, and know that the release of inner tensions is pretty much central to both. It’s fun stuff that should really be viewed by nobody.


If this action-thriller had been made in Hollywood it would have starred Harrison Ford and Kevin Spacey, but since it’s Swedish we instead get Mads Mikkelsen and a guy who looks a lot like Kevin Spacey. Mikkelsen’s turn as the villain in Casino Royale didn’t really do him justice, since his effective creepiness in that flick didn’t hint at how strong a leading man he is. He takes the Harrison Ford role here as a beleaguered businessman whose family is put in peril by a sinister figure, but where H-Fo would have had me groaning every time he pulled his “who farted?” face in response to pretty much every dramatic development, Mikkelsen was an enjoyable presence to watch. The women sitting behind me found him even moreso when he emerged from a steamy shower all shiny and bare-chested, and they were nicely voluble about their appreciation, too.

Mikkelsen plays a corporate raider who, along with his boss, informs the guy who built their company that he’s going to have to be laid off. That guy says he’ll take it under advisance and by that I mean he goes back to his office and blows his head off. Seven years later Mikkelsen’s boss suffers an asset reduction, the asset in this case being his own head which faces a merger with a crowbar. Mikkelsen becomes the chief suspect and goes on the run after a shadowy figure claiming to be the first dead guy calls up and says he’s going to take Mads’ wife and kid hostage.

What follows is a very tense and fast-paced thriller with lots of running around Stockholm hiding from the cops, engaging shady underworld characters, trying to get through to the family on the phone and smashing cars into other cars. There’s the obligatory but mercifully short torture scene, in this case involving a dude wanting to do some home renovations on Mikkelsen’s leg with the aid of a nailgun. Look out, that’s a load-bearing leg! Mikkelsen truly proves his action hero chops, though, when he realises that any injury he might sustain can always be fixed up by a long hot shower, thus leading to the hunky pec-tastic scene which provoked oohs and aahs from the ladies in the back row.

Amidst all this action and intrigue is a whole swab of confusing and unnecessary corporate talk that wastes no time in turning its audience completely off the plot, which might be wise since what I did gather didn’t always make a lot of sense. If this were a Hollywood thriller, then, it’d be a pretty middle-range one, but it’s certainly as strong as any of those here-today-gone-tomorrow numbers pumped out of LA at regular intervals.


I’m really torn by Yella, since you’re never sure if it’s great or terrible. That’s mainly because its eerie, understated style hints at something profound going on under the surface, but you can’t tell if it’s just you. What’s on the surface, unfortunately, isn’t that much, so I kept desperately hoping that there’d be the kind of twist that isn’t finally delivered.

Nina Hoss plays Yella Fichte, a young accountant who leaves her abusive ex-husband to start a new life in Hanover. There she hooks up with a slightly dodgy insurance broker and together they start raking in some cash and form a vaguely romantic relationship. Psycho-ex starts stalking her, and her very frequent business meetings are interrupted by his intermittent house calls or tappings on shoulders.

It’s all done in this cool, lyrical way that sets up a very strange mood of suspense when the events themselves aren’t that suspenseful. What saves the film – the one thing, in the manner already mentioned – is in this instance Hoss herself, who makes for a compulsively watchable protagonist. She’s incredibly restrained and brings this unbearable sadness to the role. I kept hoping she’d hook up with the loser from Lights in the Dusk. But it just seems as if every guy in her life has always been complete crap, and she carries this hopelessness that’s heartbreaking. Other than that, the film doesn’t really go anywhere much. Way, way too much talk of investment capital and leverage and other things that might give your average auditor a bit of a buzz, but won’t even register an impression on most audience members.


This is the one film for today that didn’t really have any pointless business prattle, thank god. It’s another Eastern Europe – your destination for death! – films, but it’s a thriller as opposed to a bloody horror. It recreates the true story of a young French couple who move to a town in – I think it was Romania, maybe Hungary – and one night find themselves terrorised in their own home by evil marauders. It mostly unfolds in real time as they try to evade their would-be killers, and the central couple deliver great performances. Again, not much more to it than that (or not much I’ll give away), but this is a minor yet mostly pleasant piece with enough jump-out-of-your-seat moments to keep up some level of interest. Very handsomely shot, too.


If you really, really don’t like Dead All Along endings, then there’s one film I’ve reviewed at some point today or earlier which you should avoid at all costs. In the little list I gave above, it’s the one after the second film to be composed of a one word title. So there ya go.

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