Review: Trollhunter (2010)

In Trollhunter, a Norwegian mockumentary by writer-director  André Øvreda, three college students, Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), Johanna (Johanna Morck), and Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen) the camera man we barely ever see, decide to make a documentary about a reclusive man, Hans (Otto Jespersen), whom they believe to be a bear poacher. He lives in a dilapidated trailer that reeks of God knows what and has bushels of thymine and strange furs hanging all over it. The truck he drives looks like some has attacked it with an axe, repeatedly. Much to his displeasure, they shadow him, until why night he drives into the forest, gets out of the car and disappears into the woods. Excited, the three filmmakers follow him but they don’t have to wait long for Hans to come running back screaming “Troll!”

That is when the characters realize what the audience has known all along: Hans is a troll hunter.  He works for a governmental institution Troll Security Service (TSS) that is dedicated to conceal the trolls from the rest of the population and kill those who wander off the territory designated to them. But his pay is miserable and the work hours are a real horror, not to mention the occupational hazards, so he decides to let the trio film everything that happens as a way of getting back at his employer.

What ensues is a curious mix of found footage, conspiracy thriller and fantasy. Øvreda shows good understanding of the genre and uses it less to scare the audience but more to remind us what the term “mockumentary” actually means. The film is more than just nausea inducing pictures of characters running through dark woods, shrieking (although to be fair, these aren’t entirely absent). Of all the found footage horror films we’ve been treated to since the phenomenal success of Blair Witch Project (1998), Trollhunter is the most engaging which mostly due to two reasons.

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Review: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (2011)

Product placement was invented long before Holly Golightly went window shopping at Tiffany’s, wearing the soon-to-become-iconic sleeveless Givanchy dress and Ray Bans.  In fact, the first film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture, Wings (William A. Wellman, 1927), had paid product placement for Hershey’s Chocolate. Today it is a multi-billion dollar industry and it has caught the attention of Morgan Spurlock, the director of the controversial Oscar-nominated documentary Super Size Me, in which he conducted a self-experiment by eating nothing but McDonald’s food for a month. His latest feature with a mouthful of a title – Pom’s  Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold – is also built around an experiment (or a gimmick, whichever one you prefer).

This time around Spurlock wants to find out whether it is possible to make a “film about product placement funded strictly by product placement”: he will secure the film’s budget by finding sponsors that will finance the film, which in return will promote their brands. The search for the said sponsors is the central part of the film. Turns out larger brands are not particularly interested in advertising through an indie documentary, much less through a Morgan Spurlock feature (who would’ve thought). So, one by one, he approaches smaller brands that usually can’t afford to have their products placed in big Hollywood blockbusters like Iron Man, which had more than 14 brand partners.

With a wide grin (read: barely conceived smirk) on his face Spurlock pitches the idea for his movie to the brands’ representatives. They ask him questions about the film and how their brand will be portrayed in it. The whole process is, of course, being filmed and is part of the movie. Things cannot be any more meta than this.  The whole process is very entertaining, as is the rest of the film, and Spurlock himself seems to be having a very good time, too: he gets a special laugh out of a particular hair care brand, “Mane N’ Tale” — hair products that are designed to be used by both humans and horses; he also appears to be permanently surprised at the fact that any brand that takes itself seriously would be interested in cooperating with him.

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Rango’s Storytelling Problem

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Rango tells a story of a pet chameleon with a very vivid imagination. He was used to leading a very comfortable life and would spend most of his time acting out dramatic scenes and being the star of his own little world he shared with a plastic yellow fish and a headless Barbie torso. Then, one day his terrarium fell out of his owner’s car and thus his epic adventure has begun.

Now Rangomight be an animated feature with talking animals but it’s really a classic Western at heart. Therefore where else could the poor lizard be stranded but in a desert? With some help from a fellow lizard named Beans he arrives to the dusty town of Dirt, where his taste for the theatrical leads him to invent a new persona for himself: he pretends to be a fearless drifter who goes by the name ‘Rango’ and soon finds himself in the role of the sheriff investigating the disappearance of the town’s water reserves.

There is a very goofy air about Rango, the character as well as the film. There is nothing particularly scary about it that would potentially upset or scare the younger viewers (except, maybe, for the mariachi band that keeps predicting the protagonist’s untimely death), it being a family film and all. And yet many critics noted that the film might be even more appealing to the adult viewers than to its target audience. Yes, Rango seems to be a more mature film than its animated rivals of 2011 such as Rio or Gnomeo and Juliet, or at least a film the adult audiences are more likely to enjoy to the same degree or even more than the children the film is marketed at. “Seems” is the key word here because while there undoubtedly are many adults who’ve found Rango to be very enjoyable, I would argue that most of them were film lovers who took pleasure in recognizing the many movie references scattered all over the screen. Indeed, it takes Rango mere seconds to go from spoofing Star Wars to paying homage to Apocalypse Now, while the plot itself is a mixture of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Chinatown. But self-referentiality is nothing special in this day and age, since even the Twilight-movies have discovered it by now.

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“Harry Potter”: The Novels and the Films

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Yes, I know, the debate whether film adaptations can live up to the books they are based on has pretty much exhausted itself by now. I’m even not sure why it was started in the first place. Film, obviously, is a very different medium, it has its own language and plays by its own rules. Unless the book itself is very famous, successful or influential I see no reason why one should busy oneself with the senseless comparison of the two. I don’t think one should care whether the film is “faithful” to the book or if it captures the book’s “spirit”. What does it matter if a book’s storyline has been changed or a character has been left out? It doesn’t.

However, when it comes to immensely popular property such as “Harry Potter” the issue of fidelity becomes much more important. This is due to the fact that the “Harry Potter” films couldn’t possibly stand on their own; they are but companions to the books. They were conceived as the extension of the novels and have thus, at least partially, lost the right to be seen independent works of art. This is why I feel I have a right to say that, for the most part, the “Harry Potter” films can’t hold a candle to the books.

Now, I realize that when it comes to comparing the “Harry Potter” books and films I’m extremely biased inasmuch as I’ve discovered and fallen in love with the books first. I came across the “Harry Potter” novels (back then ‘only’ the first four volumes had been published) relatively late, in 2001. The first film was already on its way to the cinemas but I had no idea as to whom or what the books were about. I just thought the golden font of the title, with the letter ‘P’ shaped like a lightning bolt, looked intriguing and when you’re 14, sometimes that’s all it takes. Having never heard of the books before, I didn’t know which volume to start with. Ultimately I grabbed “The Chamber of Secrets” which, of course, was a mistake. I couldn’t even get through the first chapter as I had no idea what was going on. By the time I came across the sentence “What have I told you about saying the ‘m’ word in our house?” I was seriously confused and by the time I read “Harry Potter was a wizard” I’d already given up on the book.

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100 Things I Love About Movies

I’ve been meaning to do so for a while and have now finally decided to start my own blog about movies (because, you know, we haven’t got enough of those already). And I frankly can’t think of a better way to introduce myself than by listing 100 things I love most about the movies.

I, like so many others, have been inspired by this post. This is a very, very good list. Annoyingly so, because I had no choice but to borrow a couple of entries from it.

So here goes:

1. Star Wars opening crawl together with John William’s score

2. Blood pouring out of the elevator in The Shining

3. The Bride escapes out of her grave in Kill Bill vol. 2

4. The jump cut in 2001: A Space Odyssey

5. The zombie takes a beating while ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ is playing on a jukebox

6. The title sequence from Raging Bull

7. The frog-rain in Magnolia

8. Belmondo painting his face blue in the end of Pierrot Le Fou

9. “It’s just a flesh wound!”

10. The Pale Man from El Laberinto del Fauno

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11. Christopher Doyle’s cinematography

12. The Goodfellas voice-over

13. “I am McLovin!”

14. The “Married Life” montage from Up