Let It Be Morning (35th Israel Film Fest)

In what might be a metaphor, an allegory, perhaps a parable, when the self-proclaimed Palestinians make a movie by themselves, it’s usually a horror show about how Jews are monsters and it’s therefore a good thing to kill them while when they work with Jews, there’s a lot more empathy toward all viewpoints. Whatever it is, it’s probably not a coincidence.

You don’t necessarily know what’s what going IN to one of these movies, however.

The director and co-writer Eran Colirin also wrote and directed The Band’s Visit, a relatively early (for me, 2007) Israeli film experience (after 2004’s Ushpizin which remains one of my favorite movies ever), so I needn’t have worried. This is actually much like that film in terms of pacing and tone.


I feel like flying a kite in the DMZ is a bit more exciting than it is other places.

I would describe both films as “interesting”, actually. Kevin Smith once said that in Hollywood when someone says your movie is “interesting” that means they didn’t like it. Well, fine, we needn’t be constrained by Hollywood “manners”: When I say something is “interesting” I mean it, and it’s a good thing.

Sami is an Arab Palestinian living and working in Tel Aviv who comes back for his little brother’s wedding. We get the usual tropes of “successful city dweller returning to his rustic roots”: The village people hold Sami in a kind of awe and he is very concerned about keeping his distance from these rubes, both embarrassed by their behaviors and his connection to them and ashamed of his shame. His father is building him a house using day laborers, as if he were going to return home. He has a mistress in Israel, a Jewess no less, and has no interest in his hot but bitchy (with good reason) wife.

Seriously unsubtle.

There is an unsubtle metaphor about doves not flying here.

He flees the ceremony with his wife and kid only to find himself trapped. Apparently due to—well, we never really know if it’s pending nuclear war between America and Iran, a political shakedown, or an attempt to find terrorists amongst the day laborers—and when he retreats back to his brother’s pad, he discovers both his brother and his brother’s new bride eager to take his kid and—as becomes increasingly apparent—keep as far away from his hot new (constantly texting) wife as possible. Turns out he also has (or wants?) a Jewish mistress, and a job amongst the Chosen People in Israeli, and to get out of the old country.

What the hell’s going on here? Well, again, if it were a purely Arab film, this would be part of a Jewish scheme to…I dunno…steal the precious bodily essences of strong Arab men.

What we get instead is an interesting mixture of a lot of life’s complexities. The town thugs are busy rousting people and cooperating with the (seemingly) unreasonable demands of the Israeli authorities. The vital security issue being address apparently only requires a single guard on the border. Sami and his wife Mira are having trouble, sure, but Sami’s parents weren’t a picture of good marital health either.

Jews, probably.

Something ominous on the horizon.

They can’t even connect with the day laborers, because the day laborers look at them and think “These guys have it easy.”

Meanwhile Sami’s pal, whom he’s been avoiding since he moved to the city, is scraping by trying to impress his (slutty) ex- and Sami, but has just got himself in hock with the local thugs.

It’s a mess, as life often is, and one can relate to it in a purely apolitical fashion. The Palestinians here don’t want anything other than basic freedom and decency. They’re so cowed they can barely gin themselves up for a protest at the border.

It’s always dangerous to try to apply movie narratives to the real world but I tend to believe there is some truth in this. While not neglecting the extremely virulent anti-Semitism that exists (and receives generous funding) in those territories, I think there must be those who would be willing to put their love of their children over their hatred of Jews, as Golda Meier put it.

Pray for peace.

Amazing more people don't get shot.

I feel like there’s a lot of “assing around” on the border, as Winston Groom might put it.

Plan A (35th Israel Film Festival)

Did you know that there was a plan by angry Jews to poison the bread of SS being detained in American POW camps after WWII as revenge? It’s true! The Jews were working in a bakery that was feeding the camp and they were going to poison the bread, with the main problem being that they didn’t want to poison the Americans.

This was Plan B.

What was Plan A, you ask?

Poisoning the water supply in Nuremberg to kill as many Germans as possible.


You can tell just by looking at them which spent a lot of time in the camps.

The 35th IFF gives us a movie about the band of rebel Jews who decide “an eye for an eye” means six million Germans should be killed. This is based on a real story though of course certain liberties were taken. I’m not sure, for example, that the six million number was being bandied about by Jewish survivors in 1945. (Wikipedia uses the number as well and seems to put it in the mouth of the head of the movement so…maybe?)

Our protagonist is Max, a Jew recently freed from the camp (sans deceased wife and child) to go to his old homestead only to get the tar beaten out of him by the German who stole it in his absence. (This is an entire sub-genre of post-WWII movies.) While fantasizing of revenge, he runs across a group of soldiers—the British army had divisions of Jews which were, of course, called Palestinians—whose extracurricular activities involve finding everyone who helped with the Shoah and killing them.

Max (August Diehl, The King’s Man) enjoys this a little too much, and when the Palestinians are recalled (presumably because Israel looms), he falls in with British Intelligence, which is trying like the dickens to stop all the revenge killings. They figure Max has a chance to get in with Nakam, a small group of terrorists plotting to carry out the eponymous Plan A. Nakam is rightfully suspicious of Max, but when he manages to get a sensitive job at the water treatment plant (by pretending to be SS, no less), they ultimately absorb him into their ranks.

The tension in the movie comes from the whole will he?/won’t he? struggle of Max as he decides what side he’s on. Does he want to stop Nakam? He’s pretty pissed. And just because the war is over doesn’t mean the Germans actually like Jews all of a sudden. (The arc of Germany, as seen in a variety of movies, seems to have been “nothing happened”, “we’re sorry” and now “we will never erase this stain on our souls”.)

Indeed, the weakness of the film is that you don’t really get a sense of Max’s struggle—because he doesn’t really seem to be struggling, at least not with the question of whether or not poisoning six million people is a good idea. He’s struggling with his trauma, he’s struggling with not being outed as a Jew, but mostly he seems okay with the plan. Excited, even.

In fact, Anna (Sylvia Hoeks, Blade Runner 2049 and Sylvia Kristel in the upcoming biopic), a Nakam member who strongly distrusts Max only to end up in a relationship (of sorts) with him becomes the film’s real main character after a while: She is at least as traumatized as Max is by the loss of her child, but she can’t completely dissociate herself from the idea that German’s also have children who have done nothing to warrant being murdered. She becomes the focus of the audience attention as she genuinely does seem to struggle.

Obviously, the historical outcome of the story is known to all of us in advance (unless you want to go Galaxy Brain on Jewish conspiracies) so the main interest of the movie is the aforementioned struggle and the movie is somewhat weaker than it might be. There are some interesting elements as far as planning goes, and as far as not wanting to poison completely indiscriminately, and also whether the consequences of a successful terrorist attack on this level might thwart the Jews attempt to claim Israel.

We did like it, but it didn’t quite gel for us. Like a lot of the Israeli films, it was at least interesting and different.

A million here, a million there...

“Second thoughts? No, why do you ask?”

April 7, 1980 (35th Israel Film Fest)

We moved seamlessly from an actual documentary about Albert Speer into a dramatization of the events of April 7th, 1980, which is probably a very significant date if you were alive at the time, and living in Israel.

Assuming you’re too young or not Israeli enough to know, the broad strokes are this: A small group of terrorists invade the Misgav Am kibbutz to get hostages and thereby negotiate the release of their fellow terrorists. They screw up and end up inside the kids’ dormitory. An abortive attempt at a quick rescue results in a dead soldier, and the Israelis are forced to pretend to negotiate with the terrorists until they can mount a better raid.

Spoiler: They're not.

They seem nice.

Apparently one title for this film was The Longest Night, and while it’s only about 80 minutes long (excluding credits), it’s plenty long enough. Even with a 20 minute lead-in where you get to know some of the people, you’re still looking at a solid hour of wondering when kids are gonna get murdered. The action scenes are done shaky-cam, which I get, but which I felt was kind of mistake. The shaky-cam creates a chaotic situation where you don’t know what’s going on and are reduced to being anxious about the results, which is fairly reflective of real life violence.

On the other hand, the shaky-cam creates a chaotic situation where you don’t know what’s going on and are reduced to being anxious about the results. I think I might have preferred the other extreme, where the action was all done in a remote way.

It’s not a bad movie; we liked it all right. (I wouldn’t say we enjoyed it, exactly.) One thing about being short is you can make a clean statement—say about the traumatic existence of being a Jew surrounded by animals who will kill your children—without wearing out your welcome. You can give a sense of the experience without seeming to be lecturing.

I pointed out to the Boy that there are certain things the Jewish side of the conflict does in their movies that the Arab side does not. In this movie: a) the terrorists goof, they end up in the kid’s dorm accidentally; b) some of the terrorists are conflicted, they don’t want to be there; c) commonality is shown between the Arabs and Jews. I’m sure (c) is true—it can be hard for those of us not caught up in the conflict to tell them apart. I read the (slim) Wikipedia entry and didn’t see any evidence of (a) and (b).

Interestingly, too, the Wiki describes the deaths that occurred, and the movie changes the order and nature of those deaths. I presume this was just for greater dramatic purposes.

Not for everyone.

It’s an hour of feeling like these people look.

In the real incident, the terrorists come in and immediately kill a 2-year-old. Obviously, if they had done that in the movie, that would’ve undermined all of (a), (b) and (c), and removed a considerable amount of tension.

The group was the Arab Liberation Front which, naturally, had me thinking of Life of Brian. I half wanted one of them to start cussing out the Liberation Front of Arabia.

Speer Goes To Hollywood (35th Israel Film Fest)

Did you know a lot of Nazis have IMDB entries? Literal, classic Nazis, not these Ukrainians or Trump supporters I’m always hearing about. Like, Adolf Hitler has many entries as “Self” and “Archive Footage” and, okay, writer (for Mein Kampf), but also “commissioned by…” for Triumph of the Will and “worst boy” for Airplane! My favorite would be the “Thanks” credits: for Blubberella (Uwe Boll, you scamp!) and a much milder acknowledgement from the great Downfall.

Tangentially, are people actually watching Downfall? I love the Hitler memes (and am very sorry Bruno Ganz didn’t) but that’s a damn good movie and Ganz is just wonderful.

Albert Speer, an architect who became Hitler’s war minister and boosted the slave labor quotient, also has some IMDB entries. On Triumph of the Will, e.g., he was the production designer. He served a similar role on Leni Riefenstahl’s first propaganda film, Victory of the Faith. These from the ’30s.

He also was the author of an Emmy-Winning 1982 TV miniseries, Inside the Third Reich.

Wait, what?

Gettin' away with it.

Speer at Nuremberg.

This documentary details how Speer, one of the few big Nazis to escape capital punishment at Nuremberg, set out to rehabilitate his reputation, to the extent where he had Hollywood player Andrew Birkin (The Name of the RosePerfume) out at his house thrashing out an essentially heroic biopic that would—after his death and much amelioration—become Inside the Third Reich.

It’s a fascinating little tale, and as noted by other reviewers, it is important to realize that the tapes you hear while listening to this are recreations. The filmmakers declare these were strict reproductions and done for clarity’s sake, since the old tapes are badly degraded, and to be honest the content is sufficient to make any points needed without dramatic enhancement.

Speer, clearly, is looking for historical salvation. He’s either savvy enough (or completely unsavvy, I guess) to cop to a lot of things. He pressed internees into slave labor. He had a broad picture of the war effort. He was Hitler’s right-hand man in a lot of ways. A lot of times he’ll say, “I don’t think I heard that, but I wouldn’t have objected to it, if I had.”

But he didn’t know about the Holocaust.

Did people know? Didn’t people know? That’s often the Big Question that comes up in these sorts of things. Everybody had more-or-less the same facts, I think. For some people that was sufficient to “know” but for others, I think, they told themselves if they never looked, they’d never “know” and they therefore were not responsible.

But with Speer, the Herculean effort it would take to “not know” even in this specious sense strains credulity. His story has him leaving right at the time the Jew-exterminating was being discussed, every time, over and over. If this kind of not knowing is excusable in some contexts, it certainly wouldn’t be here.

A little self-referential...

Speer reading Speer.

In fact, the impression I got from him, over-and-over, was that he didn’t care. He says as much in multiple places. He wanted to build things. Jews (et al) were not his concern. This seems no less monstrous to me.

Birkin’s also an interesting player in the drama that unfolds. It’s an exciting history and would be red meat to any writer wanting to tackle the most difficult of subjects. But the two discuss, frequently, that they’re mythologizing Speer for the sake of drama. Speer of course knows that will serve to reclaim him but Birkin’s creative drive seems to be blinding him to the implications. At a couple of points, he calls Carol Reed (The Third ManOliver!) who keeps pointing out the dangers of eliding the very real facts of Speer’s case.

And they’re both right, really: The better story, dramatically, is of a man who finds himself caught up in a massive evil and is at a loss as to what to do; the actual story, apparently, is that Speer went along with it and either didn’t care or downright engineered it.

Eventually, sanity prevailed and the movie was never made. The miniseries incorporated some less self-serving material and presented probably a fairer picture than Speer’s memoir.

To paraphrase Uwe Boll in Blubberella: Thanks, Hitler, for making all these great movies possible! (I guess?)

This was the first film we saw as part of the 35th Israel Film Festival which came early this year (probably due to being canceled last year).

Together again!

Speer and Birkin

The Duke

Well, here ya go! A nice little English movie with established actors and producers and what-not that does what nice little English films should do: Treat us to an adventure with fun characters living their quirky little lives and “taking the piss” with (with? on?) overbearing government bureaucrats. This is a time-honored tradition in England, even if it only results in more bureaucrats over time.

They just need, I don' t know, snooker cues?

English Gothic

Kenneth Bumpton (Jim Broadbent) is a poor old crank living in a cruddy English village, unable to hold down a job because he’s just got so many damned opinions about everything in the unjust world of 1961, while his long-suffering wife (Helen Mirren) pleads with him to just do something to help out their actual household. They have a son who’s got ambitions to be a boat-builder (which ambitions seem to be out of his class, ’cause England), an older son who’s dodgy, and they also have a deceased daughter Mrs. Bumpton doesn’t want talk about.

When the movie opens, Kenneth is on trial for stealing a very expensive painting of the Duke of Wellington. Flash back six months and we find that among Kenneth’s hobby horses of worker rights and racial justice, he really thinks TV should be free for old people, and he expresses his opinions by writing (presumably) bad teleplays and sending them to the BBC and also by setting up petitions no one signs. He harasses TV fine collectors by arguing his TV can’t get the BBC and therefore he shouldn’t have to pay the tax. (He’s removed something from the TV but I wasn’t sure—I mean, a tuner is a tuner, right? You can’t really remove the “BBC piece”, can you?) He rails at the news story that government paid millions for an old painting instead of using that money to give old people and vets free TV.

Curls for justice!

I assume the whole wig-wearing thing is a flex: “We dare you to laugh at our beautiful white curls.”

He promises his wife he’ll settle down after taking one last stab down in London to make his point heard. After the trip turns disastrous, the titular painting goes missing and turns up in Bumpton’s house. He tries then to ransom it for the money to go to the cause and, as we see from the opening scene, ends up on trial for grand larceny.

I question the whole goal of getting TV to seniors so they won’t be lonely. To me that would be a nightmare scenario. Lord knows the Marxian revolution Bumpton imagines has been a nightmare scenario to everyone who managed to survive one. His efforts to stand up for his “Paki” co-worker had a very good chance to get them both fired, so even when his heart’s in the right place, his follow-through could use some work.

But you can’t help but like the guy, and his wife, and that’s what makes the whole movie work. The little guy fighting against the system lands a blow against all odds and manages to embarrass it quite nicely. David & Goliath-type stuff. I feel like most modern governments would just drone him, so as bad as the U.K. was back then, I think we’re in a much worse place as far as tyrannical rulers, and on that level it’s easy to sympathize. The sub-plot with the dead daughter gives things a little emotional depth they would not have otherwise had, and the resultant breaking down of Mrs. Bumpton’s barriers toward speaking of it gives Mirren a good arc to sink her teeth into. Subtle, yet moving, played perfectly off Broadbent’s character’s larger emotionalism.

Or when returning it.

When stealing art, be sure to bring a large enough overcoat.

Broadbent and Mirren ooze charm, of course, and even though they’re too old in calendar years for the parts, they’re just right for 1961-era 60-ish people.

It’s English and as one expects, the acting is good down to the extras in crowd scenes and the pigeons in Piccadilly Square.

The last film of director Roger Michell, who probably hit his peak popularity around the turn of the century with Changing LanesNotting Hill and Venus. Not a bad one to go out on, really.

I think this was technically released in the US for the 2022 Oscar season so I don’t think it got the nominations the producers were hoping for, and I don’t think it quite cleared its $14M budget, though it did score some noms in the AARP movie awards. I’m not making that up.

Still, worth a watch.

Hell, she's probably pulled it herself a couple of times.

Mirren’s probably wise to the popcorn trick by this point.

Happy New Year/A Year End Medley

In the category of “movies you didn’t know you needed”, how about a Korean version of Love, Actually? Anyone? Anyone? @JulesLaLaLand?

Confession time: I saw Love, Actually when it came out and thought it was “fine” and never thought of it again for about ten years when I realized it was a bone of considerable contention. The aforementioned Jules has a number of criticisms—well, okay, mainly one, that it’s just eight under-developed screenplays—and I can’t argue with that. Partly because it’s true, and partly because it’s been 20 years, and any sort of reflection on the film (apart from some performances and a tragically prophetic plotline for Liam Neeson) would—well, let’s just say I don’t see how I come out a winner by dwelling on it.

Too, I do recall that the connections between the stories in Richard Curtis’ film felt tenuous and contrived like, “Well, let’s thread these stories together…somehow.” But again I watched it and moved on back in 2003.

But maybe I'm wrong.

I don’t think I’m the only one who would look at this and think, “Oh, a Korean ‘Love, Actually’!”

Nonetheless, the poster for the Korean version recalled the English film enough that I intuited that the Korean movie was emulating it. And the Korean movie, the title of which I still don’t really know—apparently made for TV according to IMDB!—tackles two of the main issues with the original film: It has only six stories, instead of eight, and the stories are more tightly woven together, all taking place in a fancy hotel between Christmas and New Years. It’s also less preposterous. Do these changes help?

Maybe. It felt like the two main characters Big Businessman and Hotel Maid had stronger character development than Prime Minister and 10 Dowling Street Maid. And their story arcs allowed/required them to care about other people in a larger sense I don’t recall from the 2003 film. For The Boy and I, having to sort out six stories and distinguish all the characters was a minus Koreans doubtless wouldn’t have as much trouble with. Then there’s that highly memed but rather troubling story arc with the guy from “The Walking Dead” pining after Keira Knightly when she’s just married his best friend—I didn’t sense any equivalent of that, thankfully.

Awful. I apologize...for nothing.

Pretty maid all in the snow?

The Boy was not super-impressed. I liked it a little bit more. With both of us, of course, the bar for Korean movies is pretty high and this would definitely be on the lower side.

I did find it amusing that the Christmas carols played in the movie were Jesus-heavy. I seem to recall that the ones in Love, Actually were pretty non-denominational, except for “Silent Night” in the aforementioned “lie to your new husband scene”.

Also somewhat interestingly the movie was popular enough in Korea that it was (or is going to be) shown as a six-episode TV show, with the stories fleshed out a bit more. That might actually work better.


It’s not really rolling the dice to go see a Mamoru Hosoda film. Even if he’s never quite hit the heights he did with the first film of his we saw (Wolf Children), he’s always more interesting than his story premises might suggest. In this movie, he returns to a Summer Wars-style virtual reality, where an unassuming girl takes the (virtual) world by storm and finds herself involved with a destructive player who eludes the ruling authorities and creates havoc at community events.

The beautiful Belle finds herself captivated by the “beast” and ultimately finds her way back to his secret castle. At certain points, here, rooms in the castle are directly lifted from the 1946/1991 Beauty and the Beast and the movie teases a plot like that film—and then it veers in an entirely different and ultimately more interesting direction.

This shift and the heroine’s comically aggressive friend who arranges Belle’s meteoric rise and runs cover for her are the highlights of the film, as well as the animation and music.

It probably won’t knock your socks off, but it’s a fun movie with a serious undercurrent, and that unique Hosoda flavor.


Policeman’s Lineage

Of the various genres we’ve experienced in Korean cinema, the crime dramas are often the hardest to follow. Since the plots tend to be deliberately murky and the characters often look alike, it’s very easy to get confused. Similar to watching film noir, however, the point is very often the style, the melodrama, the cool characters—the plots don’t even have to make sense.

So it’s sort of ironic that Policeman’s Lineage is well acted with strongly drawn characters and a very easy-to-follow plot, and ultimately ends up being somewhat paint-by-the-numbers and forgettable. It’s not bad—it’s quite entertaining, even—but it doesn’t stand out four months later (which is when I’m writing this review).

The plot is a classic “rookie by-the-book cop is enlisted by Internal Affairs to investigate a heroic, high-profile cop who isn’t so by-the-book and also seems to be quite wealthy”. Add a dash of “my father was a cop but he’s in jail now” and you get that kind of gangster story James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart cut their teeth on back in the ’30s.

When you go back to Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, you have this situation (probably not the first) where the P.I. pretends to be crooked because that’s the best way to deal with crooks. And since then, you have the drama in these sorts of movies coming from the tension of “is he or isn’t he (corrupt)?” A common trope these days is “Well, he is, but not without principles because he sold out in order to do good” or somesuch nonsense. And there’s an interesting chemistry—an excellent chemistry between the two leads—that ends up defusing the tension.

The elder Cho Jin-woong (The Spy Gone North, The Handmaiden) radiates such moral uprightness that even when he physically throws the protégé (Choi Woo-sik,  ParasiteThe Divine FuryTrain To Busan) down and threatens to kill him, you don’t get a sense that he’s doing so for any venal reason. In other words, you kind of feel like Cho is the only genuinely honest guy around and the real tension is whether or not Choi is going to go “by the book” rather than do the right thing.

So it’s still interesting and enjoyable, but almost along a more “is this going to be a Shakespearean tragedy or buddy cop action comedy?” line. Ultimately it didn’t quite pack the punch of a really dark crime drama or the fun of a action comedy, but it was still very watchable.

The Northman

When Robert Eggers makes a movie, I presume two things: 1) That I’m going to like it; b) That I’m not going to recommend it to most people.

This is a lot of prejudice considering I’ve only seen one movie of his, The Witch, all the way back in 2016. Though time is different these days, as if two years had been stolen. He also made The Lighthouse, which I did not see, but which sounded much like The Witch: Something The Boy and I would enjoy but wouldn’t recommend to someone whom we didn’t know had a taste for kind of slow-moving, tension-building historical dramas.

Hi ho to you.

Per The Boy, authentic weaponry enhances the film. Goofy Hollywood fighting detracts.

Despite this limited info, I was correct: I did enjoy The Northman and I would not recommend it to very many people. But not because it was slow moving, rather because it’s too alien to most people’s understandings and, let’s be honest, most people don’t go to the movies to expand their horizons. I was not surprised by one old lady a few seats in front of us who scoffed, finding the whole thing outrageous, apparently. The RT 89/63 split makes perfect sense, except I even think that 63 is a bit too high for a general audience. (This isn’t a movie that a “general audience” would go to, so it self-selects for people more likely to enjoy it.)

I would describe it this way: Imagine, if you will, Christianity had never conquered Scandinavia. The Vikings, instead (somehow) had continued to thrive as a culture and make their colonies in America stick. Fast forward a few hundred years and Hollywood is formed by Norse Pagans, and they want to tell a religious story, like the Ten Commandments.

This is the movie they’d make.

Red gold. Chicago tea.

Come listen to a story ’bout a Viking named Am, his uncle killed his father and then he went ham…

Allegedly based on the same legend that inspired Hamlet, our protagonist is Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård, What Maisie Knew, Melancholia) who as young boy sees his father murdered and his mother raped (in the classical sense of “carried off”) by his uncle and, barely escaping swears revenge. Twenty, thirty, forty years later—Skarsgård is 46 so, yeah—he comes back for revenge. Except that he can’t go back for revenge because his treacherous uncle was immediately displaced by King Harald and is currently unemployed! In Greenland!

OK, Iceland, but you get the idea: Amleth is going to Iceland to wreak havoc and settle an ancient blood debt without any clue of what’s going on any more. It’s strictly revenge for revenge’s sake.

This is not, generally speaking, a crowd-pleaser. It doesn’t reach the excesses of Korean revenge flick, thank Odin. But it is, at points, basically a slasher film from the slasher’s perspective.

It’s also not really the interesting part of the movie, though this is well done. The interesting parts, at least to my perspective, and why I relate it to, like, the Viking Ten Commandments is that the mythic nature of the story is teased but ultimately validated, and in spades. (Shades of The Witch.) The film is filled with omens and agents of the gods that all incline Amleth to act in the way he does. There’s a scene lifted straight out of Conan—though it wouldn’t surprise me if Howard himself had lifted the story from mythology—but this story is done in a coy fashion, a kind of “did it? or didn’t it?” happen.

Hallucinogens make the issue murky.


Am I hallucinating or is that Willem Dafoe is a goofy costume?

But by the end, if we are to believe anything in the story, I think we have to take the mystical elements at face value. The gods want blood and they reward those who spill it.

The Vikings are shown in all their brutal glory: They rape and pillage and enslave and it’s hard to actually root for anyone or anything, with the possible exception of Amleth’s slave lover, Olga (Anna Taylor-Joy). She seemed to be a Christian capture but she’s pretty fully pagan by the end so I don’t know what’s going on there. Other than, wow, who thought this little girl would be such a good actress. She mostly just has to emote her way through The VVitch, which was pretty low key, but she’s got some range.

Amleth’s mother is played by Nicole Kidman in some quality scenery chewing scenes. Her various “beauty treatments” seem to have settled in, and she’s rather convincing and eerie as a kind of ageless, almost goddess-like figure. I remember being disturbed by her face in Paddington, by contrast and—say, she’s doing a lot of villainess roles lately, isn’t she? Well, she’s good at ’em. I can’t claim I understood her character here. Was she insane or was she crazy like a fox? (Another Hamlet parallel!)

Clae Bass plays Fjolnir, the uncle of contention. Ethan Hawke is dead dad. Bjork gets to be the sorceress she was always meant to be. Willem Dafoe fits right in there with a small role.

Good acting. Good action, mostly. The final battle is a sword fight on a river of lava, and it’s way better than the last one of those you saw, swearsies. It’s hard to tell who is who in that fight, which I think is deliberate, and underscores the fact that there’s no victor possible in a conventional moral sense but also that we, the audience, don’t necessarily care who wins.

Nobody has the high ground here.

“It’s over, Amletkin! I have the high ground!”

Now, look, if you were a Viking descendant living in a Pagan Norse America, you probably wouldn’t have any problem rooting for the characters in this film—actually either Amleth or his uncle, frankly. One of the things the movie does, in its own weird way, is validate the morality of the characters which was both ubiquitous pre-Christianity in Europe and really, really awful.

So for me, I kind of like that, especially in a historical context. (I’m not crazy when Palestinians do it today, mind you.) When they say a movie is “challenging” this, I think, is a shockingly high-budget example of just that. It bombed in theaters, but may have made its money back streaming; I don’t know how those things are, really, and I presume it’s because Hollywood is hiding the real numbers until they figure out how to extract maximum cash from people. I also presume that they poured money into this because they still kinda-sorta understand “good” in terms of movie craft, but don’t at all understand their alleged audiences. And that’s why everything is a sequel or a franchise based on 30-80 year old property.

The Boy really liked its historical accuracy, right up until the fights, which he felt were dumb Hollywood schlock, all the more painful because the rest of it (at least in terms of the armor and weapons he’s so fond of) was so close.

A narrow recommendation at best, is what I’m saying.