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Posts tagged ‘Iceland’

Hera Hilmar, Rising Icelandic Star!

Meet Hera Hilmar! Really, Hera Hilmarsdottir, a beauteous Rising Icelandic star, who I met at the Toronto International Film Festival on a very hot, uncharacteristically tropical 100 degree day! She went to Lamda and lives in London, but Hollywood is knocking on Hera’s door! She’s irresistible! The film she was at TIFF with was called “Life in a Fishbowl.”

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TIFF is burning up! The temperature, I mean!

OMG! Is it hot here today in Toronto! The weather, I mean, and of course, the Toronto International Film Festival, too! I was just interviewing a series of very talented young people, on a tiny patio, in the sun, outside. Which started out OK as I talked to a young Iranian actor Omar Hedey about his role as a cockroach – obsessed (they are his pets) young Canadian in the short film “The Underground.” It was temperate, at that time. It was pleasant. The weather I mean. I never thought I’d ever live to see the day when I was interviewing some one about cockroaches, but I was. And I was enjoying it! It was a good short film.

Then the Icelandic beauty Hera Hilmer came out and we were wearing matching blue outfits. She’s so young and so beautiful that she takes peoples’ breath away. Mine especially. She’s in the new Icelandic film here “Life in a Fishbowl.” She lives in London and speaks English with a charming  Icelandic/British accent and was outfitted all in blue. I was feeling the temperature begin to rise.

I ran back inside the air-conditioned, but small publicist’s office, and then had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Thor (valdor David) Christianson, and then the Movie Godz turned the heat WAY up! The temperature hit 100 degrees Farenheit, and Thor, as he’s known and myself really began to roast. He was squinting and we were both sweating and my head began to spin, as the sun beat down on us, like we were in Monument Valley in a John Ford western.

But we’re in TORONTO! In September!

We had to stop, sadly, but soon you’ll be able to see all of this Icelandic glory on You Tube. He’s in the same film as the beautiful Hera. They are both incredibly sweet and charming and charismatic. But I still don’t know what that film was all about. But I intend to see it again.

You’ll be seeing both of them. A lot. In the future, I’m so sure. Thor went to Juilliard. I’m not making this up. And he said “It was the happiest time of my life.” And Hera went to LAMDA in London, where she new lives, and is in great demand there in film after film.

I’m still feeling the heat. From their star-power. And from TIFF, of course!

More soon, dear readers, dear cineastes!

 

 

 

 

 

“The Half Brother” New Norwegian TV series from MHz

“The Half Brother” a four-disc, eight episdoe DVD set, just out now on the MHz is a very interesting trip in to modern day Norway and also its’ turbulent post-WAR II past.

Beautifully shot and packed with the top-notch cast of Norway’s A-list actors, who, of course, are completely unknown in America, “The Half Brother” compels you to keep watching. It’s an epic family saga that is told in several time frames simultaneously. Skipping back and forth from V-Day in May 1945, the day Norway was freed from the Nazi Occupation, to modern day Oslo in 1987 where the main character Barnum Nilsen is trying to piece together the shattered fragments of his family’s strange history.

Barnum is played very persuasively by the curly-haired Norwegian heart-throb Nicolai Cleve Broch, whose is known as Nico to his fans. He has dark-hair and dark eyes, which in Scandinavian makes him an exotic. Barnum is a would-be screen-writer who was named Barnum after the American circus Barnum and Bailey. His strange father’s rationale for this unusual name, even for Norway, is questioned by the presiding cleric at the christening.
“It’s not what You see that matters, but what you THINK you see.”

Based on a famous novel, by one of Norway’s popular contemporary novelists, Lars Saabye Christiensen, it’s a very intricate interweaving of the lives of the Nilsen family, which begins in Ep.1 with the violent rape of Barnum’s mother Vera, by an unknown man.

A child, Fred, is born of this unholy incident, and Vera’s mother Boletta (Marianne Nielsen) and HER mother played by one of Norway’s greatest actresses Ghita Norby, take care of the baby until the arrival several years later of this unusual guy, Mr. Nilsen who charms himself into the lives of these three lonely women with silk stockings and seals the deal with a brand new washing machine, something they’ve never seen before.

And the story goes on from there. Fred, the unhappy bastard child, comes to be its’ center. Played by the very striking young actor Frank Kjosaas, who has a great screen presence with his prominent cheekbones and his seething, deep-set, haunting eyes. If there was anyone I’d pick for springing to international stardom from this cast, it’s Kjosass.

Fred wants to know the circumstances of his birth and who his father is. His mother doesn’t even know. And this search also becomes an obsession of Barnum, when his beloved HALF brother, Fred(Kjosass) disappears.

The 1940s is shot in a golden light, and the present with Barnum acting as a history detective is bluish. You HAVE to pay attention, or you could get easily lost amidst the generations and the decades as they go flying back and forth.

Having been to Iceland memorably twice with my TV show, it was interesting to see how the Norwegians view the Icelanders depicted here. They’re the circus freaks. And of course, the Norwegians are all normal.

But it’s a sumptuous spectacle and an interesting one, a perspective on Europe that we almost never see here.

“The Half Brother” is worth checking out.

New York Film Festival 2013 ~ So far, so good

The New York Film Festival 2013, which is now unfurling at Lincoln Center and environs, seems to be packed with more frenzied activity (and press) than ever before. The NYFF prides itself on NOT being as big a film festival as, say, Toronto. And this week it was really brought home to me why. They just don’t have the space and the number of cinemas that Toronto has to use for its’ great festival. TIFF takes over the entire city, near and far. New York does not. It stays comfortably ensconced where it’s always been for its ’51 years of existence :Lincoln Center. The Press Screenings are all held in the medium-sized Walter Reade Cinema, pleasant, charming but certainly not the biggest theater in New York. And in NY, they only show a FRACTION of the films that TIFF does.

Today I saw “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” one of the largest theaters in the AMC Lincoln Square multiplex on W.68th and Bway. And it was packed to the rafters, but a film like this with multiple, elaborate fantasy sequences needs a much larger screen than the Walter Reade. It fit there just fine. It’s very unusual for the Film Society to bond with AMC, but I guess for this charming, funny centerpiece film, it was a very good fit for all.

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” turns out to be a thoroughly enjoyable family film that will be pleased by all at Christmas time, but hardly on Oscar-seeker as it was buzzed to be. But it’s good, solid old-fashioned boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl entertainment, and should make a lot of money around the holidays. It’s fizzy family fun. With a lot of adventure thrown in. A very unusual Centerpiece for the New York Film Festival, which usually goes for much more serious fare.

Directed by and starring Ben Stiller, who plays the title role, it is loosely based on the famous James Thurber short story of the same name that ran in the New Yorker magazine in 1939. Walter Mitty, in this version, is someone who daydreams and wishes for a colordul life far-removed from the mundane black and white one he feels he’s stuck with.

True to Thurber,  Walter keeps “zoning” in and out of fantasy sequences, that escalate as the film’s action ramps up, precipitated by his blossoming romance with single mother/accountant, Kristin Wiig, in an uncharacteristic ingenue role. But she’s an age-appropriate love interest for Stiller, and has a skate-boarding son who Stiller bonds with.

His fantasies include chasing his idol Sean Penn, a world traveling Life magazine photographer, to the wilds of Greenland(never before seen in a feature film!) and also, of course, the neighboring island country of Iceland. Olafur Darri Olafson nearly steals the film as the drunken, gargantuan Icelandic helicopter pilot, he encounters in a Greenland bar drinking beer out of gigantic “boot glasses” .Yes, they’re shaped like boots. Walter Mitty, characteristically orders “a small boot.”

It’s long, but it held my interest. As did the also overlong “Gloria” a Chilean film about a still attractive, middle-aged working woman, who is trying to enjoy her change of life years in urban Santiago. She has children, but she sees them infrequently. It’s almost as though she’s childless.

A hairless stray cat keeps interrupting her “quiet life” as does her encounter and subsequent relationship with a middle-aged businessman Rodolpho (Sergio Hernandez). The film is much more interesting than it’s plotless plot  sounds. God is in the details in this well-observed film about the minutiae of female ageing in the post-menopausal years. It serves mainly as a vehicle for an iconic Chilean actress Paulina Garcia, who is quite marvelous and holds the screen throughout the 2 1/2 hour running time.

If there is any Oscar bait to be found at the NYFF, I would certainly say Senora Garcia deserves consideration for her unstinting tour-de-force performance in the title role. The director Sebastian Lilio said he created the film for her and she was involved with it even before it was written. “You have to fall in love with Paulina to do something like this.” And I have to say, I did. She’s irresistible. Alas an unknown actress in a small foreign film has no chance at breaking in to the Oscar race, where this year, it seems every actress involved already has an Oscar or two or three. But they are going to do a campaign for “Gloria” as Best Foreign Film. And Chile has submitted it as their Official Submission to that race in the Oscars. AND “Gloria” has a US distributor. Which is all wonderful news.

Another film that I mightily enjoyed and was truly fascinated by was the comedy team of Penn and Teller’s venture into serious documentary film making “Tim’s Vermeer.” This riveting doc is heading straight for an Oscar nomination and it may very well get there. In the “Applied Science” section of the NYFF, its central character,  an eccentric San Antonio millionaire named Tim Kenison ,gets his art geek on by telling his friend Penn one night in conversation that he’d “always wanted to paint a Vermeer.” And this film shows painstakingly how he does it.

Painstaking is the operative word here. Every single detail of how Tim does indeed paint his Vermeer is on the screen, but surprisingly, it is never dull. Tim had a theory, which he proves using the work of the 17th century Dutch master, that the photographically detailed paintings, which are ravishing in and of themselves on the big screen, were painted using”a small mirror on a stick” and the physics of Camera Obscura. I know this sounds deadly, but like “Gloria”, it is a great work of (documentary) film making that needs to be seen to be enjoyed.

I never would have thought of Penn and Teller as Oscar contenders, but as I type these unbelievable words, I think they very well may be. And “Tim’s Vermeer” is certainly THEIR surprising masterpiece.

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Noomi Rapace ~ The Stephen Holt Show

Noomi Rapace is back in the headlines and the headlights of Hollywood stardom, full blast and full throttle, with the wondrous A-Star-Is-Re-Born reviews she’s getting for her performance in the leading role in “Prometheus“, Ridley Scott’s return to Sci-Fi, Big time.


And with this role Noomi I think forever overcomes not getting the English language version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo“. She starred in all three films of the great Swedish crime noir trilogy by the late Steig Larson. Here I am, lucky and thrilled to have the privilege of chatting with her about the last episode “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” a couple of seasons back.

I just fell in love her and was shocked by how sweet and feminine and smart and sexy she was. and totally unlike the character of Lisbeth Salander in every way imaginable. Except that they both like to take risks.Noomi with her acting and Lisbeth just with life in general.  I was hoping she was going to get an Oscar nomination for this last film, but instead she did get a BAFTA Best Actress Nod.

She also grew up part of the time in Iceland, so that’s what I was saying to her at the end “Tak. Bless.” Which is “Thank you and good-bye” in Icelandic, which she speaks as well as her native Swedish. She’s going to be the biggest Swedish acting star since Ingrid Bergman! Or before her Greta Garbo!

icelandic Film Festival at Film Society of Lincoln Center

I have always been enthralled by Icelandic Cinema, and also dismayed by the almost complete lack of attention paid to it state-side. But the American glacier of indifference is slowly melting as evidenced by the historic Icelandic retrospective of films recently on display by the enterprising Film Society of Lincoln Center, which just had a very big spring with their Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in March.
Scheduled directly opposite the Tribecca Film Fest downtown,  this terrific retrospective tribute was struggling to gain media attention, and also public attention. But the films are very, very good, some of them unforgettable, and attention must be paid.
I was fortunate to have been in Reykjavik twice in its’ banner season of 1999-2000, when Baltasar Kormakur who is now one of the main forces in Icelandic cinema, had his first film “101 Reykjavik” a GLBT comedy/romance about lesbian marriage starring Spain’s Victoria Abril, open to record-breaking box-office attendance in Iceland.
Baltasar was also starring in the true Icelandic legend Fridrik Thor Fridriksson’s “Angels of the Universe” as a stuttering madman who thinks he is a Beatle.
The Film Society proclaimed “Angels of the Universe” as “Fridriksson’s masterpiece” having seen the film four or five times now over the years(once without English subtitles!) I can only heartily concur.
“Angels” is a haunting, beautifully rendered cry of great pain from the great heart of Fridriksson as he charts the downward spiral of schizophrenia in the true story of his best friend’s brother. Based on Einar Gudmundsson’s prize-winning book, its’ a compassionate, violent and also very funny look at Iceland’s attitude towards the insane. Ingvar Sigurdsson’s Pall is wrenchingly memorable as the central character who longs to paint or play music or SOMEthing, before his world fades inevitably to black.
And  the asylum he is sent to is almost a respite from the endless white noise in his head. There he encounters Baltasar Kormakur’s crazed/shy Beatles’ maniac, who stutters and strums his way into the viewers heart with an Icelandic “Hey Jude.” Kormakur utterly captivates the audience as he befriends the friendless Pall, who doesn’t seem insane to him at all.
The scene where they, on an illicit afternoon out, end up having the most expensive and delicious dinner of their lives at the Hotel Holt (yes, the Hotel Holt. I must be Icelandic going back centuries…) and then getting arrested when they, of course, try to walk out on their bill, It’s a hilarious set-piece and also heart-breaking as you realize this will never ever again happen in their imprisoned lives.
And there  is the suicide of another chain-smoking inmate played memorably by Hylmir Snaer Gudnsasson. Who was also the star of Baltasar’s “101 Reykjavik.”
And did I mention Baltasar was also directing “Midsummer’s Night Dream” at the National Theatre of Iceland while starring in another production there of “A Doll’s House.”? He’s a one-man Icelandic powerhouse.
Iceland also produces incredibly talented and versatile actors, by the dozens(literally) who populate the films in “Images” from the Edge” over and over again. In a country which now has a population of 320,000, there is a lot of artistic overlap, and because of the small size of its’ vibrant and highly creative film and theater community, actors are expected to be as skilled at drama, and comedy, and even musicals.And they are. Because if they want to work constantly, they have to be.
Baltasar Kormakur also proved a vital action hero in this festival’s “Reykjavik Rotterdam”(2008) directed by Oskar Jonasson. It’s a pulse pounding thriller, which had the highest audience turn-out so far at Lincoln Center this Sunday. You’ll be familiar with this story of luckless drug smuggling sailors as Kormakur just directed Mark Wahlberg in its’ American language re-incarnation this spring. It was “Contraband” and it made # 1 at the box-office, the first time any Icelandic director has ever done this American hat-trick, and it has catapulted Kormakur into directing Wahlberg’s next feature starring him and Denzel Washington and Paula Patton now lensing in New Orleans.
In addition to Fridrik Thor Fridriksson’s magnificent “Angels of the Universe”(2000),this towering almost -Viking figure, had THREE other films in the Festival, one of them “Rock in Reykjavik” from 1982, a doc on Iceland’s red-hot music scene, featuring a teen-aged Byork, in her then group called Tappi Tikarrass.Also “White Whales” (1987) and an installation in , off the main foyer of the Walter Reade Theater called “The Circle” or “Ring-Road” which looped constantly  in the Furman gallery, And hypnotized all who watched it as the camera,as Fridriksson described it, “moving at the speed of light” down Iceland’s all encompassing Hwy.No .1 which literally rings the island.
Set in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, this isolated volcanic island of poets, artists, actors and filmmakers touches the Arctic Circle. And anyone who seeks out any of these marvelous films(too numerous to mention here) will also be touched by this enchanted island’s magical allure. Iceland itself is always the main character in any of its’ films. I can’t wait to go back.
If only “Angels of the Universe” had been shown at the New York Film Festival when it was originally made in 2000! Now 12 years later, it’s getting its’ due But I was shocked to discover that no Icelandic film,  as EVER been shown in the prestigious NYFF. I think after this colossal “Images from the Edge” retrospective festival, things will be different in the future.
It ran through April 26.

Oscar on its’ way to being “Tattoo”-ed? Fincher’s GREAT re-do nails it!

I can’t begin to tell you what a wonderful experience it was to be soooo totally surprised, stupefied and blind-sided, and deee-lighted to be so, by David Fincher’s re-do of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” I’m kinda hog-wild about it. I think it’s an instant classic.

Shocked that material I knew so well ~ I saw all three Swedish movies and read all three blockbuster books and was totally entranced by all of them, and I  could not BELIEVE that a director whose work has been so notoriously uneven, really could re-invent, in a completely NEW, a startling way, a movie we’ve actually already seen. As recently as last year. Which is when I caught up with it.

I mean, really! Quelle shock! Quelle surprise! And how wonderful to suddenly see David Fincher turn into Alfred Hitchcock, in all of the best possible ways. I mean, Fincher has really done the IMPOSSIBLE. He re-thought and re-shot a re-make and made it all utterly, entirely entertaining.engrossing and WATCHABLE. All nearly three hours of it! Yes, it’s that long, dear readers, dear cineastes.

Fincher wants you to go through an epic, an ORDEAL, as his Viking goddess, Lisbeth Salander, becomes a true immortal Norse Mythological Heroine in his hands, and in Rooney Mara’s equally stunning performance ~ It’s a SAGA! An Icelandic SAGA! Or in this case Swedish.

Lisbeth Salander is  on par with Brunnhilde, these days. But, oh wait! That’s German! But yes, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” has that on its’ mind, too. Nazis. And there’s a lot of them. And they populate Sweden and esp. this film (and the book, too. No Fincher didn’t ADD them. But he did ad a cat… )

And there’s a LOT of Swedish politics and rage against the supposedly perfect Swedish social machine. Where corruption exists on all levels, mostly high, but mid-range, too, as exemplified by the beaurocrat Bjurman(a really slimy pig of a politico played here Yorick Van Wageningen.) His rape of Salander jump-starts the film into hyper-space, if the film’s opening five minutes of INCREDIBLY dark and oily, inky black  titles  with pounding music by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, that turn into blood and then into fire, didn’t already blow you there.  I don’t ever remember Opening titles getting applause!

How DID he do this???

Welllll, there is a biiiiiig difference between a $15 million budget which is what all THREE Swedish films had, and the something upwards of $150 milllion that this “Tattoo” was inked with.

Quelle difference! But it’s not just the money. It’s how Fincher USED the money, wisely. It’s superbly shot in a de-saturated, almost black and white tone, by his great cinematographer, who makes Sweden look black and BLUE.  There are snowscapes upon snowscapes of incredible beauty. Some thing the original Swedish version directed by Niels Arden Oplev did NOT do.

Oplev’s Stockholm looked glamorous, beautiful, colorful, intriguing, inviting. It made you want to go there. It was a celebration of Stockholm. It was if we’d never seen it before. Oplev WANTED you to go there.

There is no color whatsoever in Fincher’s version. It’s all chilly, foreboding, FREEZING. Everything seems like it’s happening in a new Ice Age. And he’s more interested in frightening the living daylights out of you by the winter gloom. It’s as though the two “Tattoos” were filmed in two totally different cities. One you’d want to go to and one you wanted to run from.

And there is a LOT of darkness in Lisbeth Salander’s world, the world that Steig Larsson created for her. It’s a Nordic vision of hell, and it’s so rotten you can also smell the stench of decaying souls. Lisbeth’s last scene takes place, metaphorically, next to a dumpster, as once again, it’s snowing.

And the suspense! Not since Hitchcock, as I said. My hero. He was the greatest of great filmmakers IMHO. And that Fincher is able to sustain this for NEARLY three hours is absolutely astonishing.

There are SOME bright lights shining in this land of the midnight sun, and it’s all in the casting. The excellent ensemble boasts a rubicund Christopher Plummer as the rich guy who hires the down-on-his-luck Blomkvist. And Blomkvist is magnificently played by none-other than James Bond himself, Daniel Craig. He’s the hero and we all know it. And a helluva nice guy. A journalist who’s a crusader against corruption in all forms, Henrik Vanger (no, not WAGNER, but you get the drift) hires the hapless Blomkvist to track down the disappearance many years prior of a beloved neice, Harriet.

Add a perfectly cast Robin Wright, Stellan Skarsgard and Joely Richardson, who’s never been better and you’ve yourself got a superb group of players. Down to the smallest bit part, Fincher has assembled a great, an historic ensemble of actor’s actors. One of the best ever for his kind of thriller-diller shockeroo. But that’s what Hitchcock did, too. He always had THE BEST actors, and by doing so elevated the genre.

That’s ONE plot, the Harriet plot. Then there’s an Agatha Christie-esque mystery-within-the-mystery, which is the real core of the story. THEN there’s the great love story that develops between Blomkvist and Salander and SHE’S definitely the one on top here.

One of the great successes of Steig Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy is his reversal, his up-ending of the usual sexual expectations in a genre like this. And both Mara and Craig are totally up to and under it. They were hot together when their relationship starts to turn carnal. And it does! We suddenly see what is keeping all those Swedish nights so warm!  And like in Ingmar Bergman’s great cinematic ouevre, it was always about the women.

And Lisbeth Salander is one of the great fictional heroines of our time, and Noomi Rapace in the Swedish films did a beautiful, mystifying job. She was as glamorous and intriguing and complicated as the Sweden that was depicted in the previous films.

Rooney Mara has large, almost gigantic blue eyes, They seem to dwarf her completely. Noomi had dark, impenetrable, almost black eyes. What WAS going on behind them in all those intense close-ups of her throughout the first three films?

With Mara’s enormous orbs, we SEE what is going on inside her much, much more clearly, and yes, there is ultimately a vulnerability that Fincher finally reveals in the film’s last scene which was like a cinematic sucker punch.

And Rooney and Oscar? Well, I’ll write more about that tomorrow!

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