Friday, July 16, 2010

Valhalla Rising Review

Okay, let's get one thing straight first off- if you've seen the poster or DVD cover for Valhalla Rising and are expecting some kind of 13th Warrior-style action film, you'd probably think you had made a wise choice. After all, there's a picture of Mads Mikkelsen on the cover holding a giant sword and with an army of soldiers at his back. Right?


This has to be the most blatantly false piece of advertising I've ever seen in my whole life- and given the addition of the non-existent soldiers in the background, it's the fact that it's so deliberately misleading that shocks me. Because if you're a fan of action films, the chances are you'll probably hate the glacial pace of Valhalla Rising.

In short, you're getting not an action film but an art house film. And, if like me, you don't mind slow-paced, atmospheric movies with great soundtracks and (very) occasional bursts of gut-wrenching violence you might not be completely disappointed. You might hang in there all the way through the film- Mads Mikkelsen does, after all, deliver a terrific performance as the invincible, mute One-Eye. The problem is that there's no pay off.

The film opens with One-Eye as a slave warrior, chained to a pole and forced to fight in brutal, unarmed combat (usually against more than one foe at a time). This section, at least, delivers on the misleading advertising. The problem, though, is that as the film goes on and he escapes and then falls in with a group of warriors off to the Holy Land the pace not only slows but the action almost completely stops. That's not say that it's not good- the photography is fantastic, the soundtrack is mesmerising and there's something compelling about watching the journey these men are on. No, the big problem is that the film builds tension so brilliantly as the men arrive, hopelessly lost, in the New World. The sound here is tremendous by the way- every whisper of wind, every rustle of leaves, every animal call hints at the hidden danger around them. It's one of the most effectively menacing environments I've seen on film. Glad I had my headphones on while watching it.

And that's why it's such a frustratingly, horribly unrewarding film. One-Eye is one of the best conceived warriors on celluloid. He cannot be stopped, cannot be beaten. We witness him fighting bare-handed and then, once or  twice, with axe and dagger- but these are only hints of what he's capable of. The film builds and builds, heading inexorably towards a showdown between One-Eye and the natives and then, suddenly, it ends. I don't want to give any spoilers but if you're expecting a big finale you're going to be sorely disappointed because there isn't one. Instead it just stops and you're left staring at the screen going, "that's it?"

If you're an art house fan, of course, your mileage may vary. You may love the "what was that bit all about" of some of it, you may wonder about the symbolism of certain elements, you may question the meaning behind certain acts. In short you may enjoy thinking about the film more than actually watching it. Personally, I'm somewhere in the middle between the "that was so boring, can't believe I wasted my time" crowd and the "wow, that was so thought-provoking/weird/unfathomable" brigade.

The major lack of a satisfying ending is the film's worst sin- perhaps some will like it but for me it's akin to the false advertising of the packaging. The DVD box art sells this as an action film. The story, the mood, the character build this film as if it's heading towards a certain ending but then doesn't deliver. I couldn't stand it. What I did like was pretty much all of the rest of it. The lack of action after the opening scenes is totally fine- as is the glacially slow pace and lack of dialogue. As I've said the cinematography is superb, the sound editing is awesome, the soundtrack is perfect for creating the proper mood, the acting is well above average and the atmosphere is gripping. The only big flaw for me was that it doesn't deliver on all of these elements. Maybe next time I watch it, I'll stop my DVD player a few minutes before the end and just imagine what should have happened.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Kill Babies

Here's video of the person at the core of the voter intimidation case- you know, the one the Obama Department of Justice had already won, but then dismissed, allowing this person to walk free.

Of course, it goes without saying that this is a classic "what if Bush did it" moment- can you imagine the uproar, the media attention, that a similar case would get if Bush's DoJ had allowed a white man with a history of saying these same things about black people to go free- after winning the case against him?