4 Performances: Viggo Mortensen

Viggo Mortensen is the greatest living American actor that no one in America cares about.  After struggling through a lot of false-starts early in his career, including a so-so remake of VANISHING POINT for television and opposite Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow in A PERFECT MURDER, he finally broke in a big way when cast as Aragorn in director Peter Jackson's epic adaptation of LORD OF THE RINGS.  He has a new movie (finally) coming out this week, Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD, directed by John Hillcoat, who also made one of the best modern Westerns, THE PROPOSITION, so I thought I'd give a run-down of some of my favorite Viggo roles from the past decade.

A vehicle for Christopher Walken, who stars as the angel Gabriel, sent to Earth to nab the soul of a child that will end the war raging in Heaven, this dark fantasy / horror first caught my attention because it was pretty intense.  While some may find it hokey now (it was a bit then, too), the film boasts a powerful cast, with a personal favorite of mine, Elias Koteas, playing the down and out Thomas Daggett, a man who must stop Gabriel from fulfilling the prophecy.  Mortensen makes an appearance as Lucifer, and almost steals the show from Walken and company; no easy task, I assure you.

Mortensen carries this trilogy on his shoulders, and handles it brilliantly.  While the films are about the journeys of many characters, Aragorn is really the thread that holds everything together, growing from an outcast into rightful heir to the throne of man in Middle Earth.  This series put him on the map, and oddly enough, a sex symbol to nerd and non-nerd alike, who were down one way or another for his rough-and-tumble portrayal of the wandering prodigal son.

After LORD OF THE RINGS, Mortensen worked with director David Cronenberg on two extremely affecting films, the low-key A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, and the London-set crime film EASTERN PROMISES.  As Tom Stall, the main character in HISTORY, Mortensen plays a man whose past is catching up with him, and is threatening to rip his family apart at the seams.  HISTORY is a meditation on the eruption of violence as it permeates everyday life, from the instant, bloody death of someone in a coffee shop to the ramifications of violence as possible ingrained human behavior.  Switching gears a bit, Viggo plays Nikolai in EASTERN PROMISES, an up and coming gangster in the Russian Mafia.  The film still bears Cronenberg's indelible fingerprints, and when the violence erupts, its like an explosion in an otherwise quiet world where no one really says what they mean, and no one speaks up for fear of their own quick demise.  The centerpiece of the film is an attempted hit on Nikolai while he's in a Turkish bath.  Mortensen plays the extremely violent edge-of-your seat fight scene completely nude, uncompromising in his insistence on authenticity as an actor where others may have opted for a less revealing approach.

Ed Harris's traditionally paced and styled Western may have put a lot of viewers off, but it was a great vehicle for an engaging story and some great acting from Mortensen, who carries around one of the biggest shotguns I've ever seen as Everett Hitch, sidekick and companion to Harris's Virgil Cole.  The gun - Mortensen's idea - becomes an extension of Everett, as much a part of his character as any other mannerism an actor might bring to the role.  Mortensen plays Hitch as loyal, but always willing to do the right thing, even if it means sacrificing something he holds dear, which is really what most Western heroes are all about.


In the hope of actually giving a much more thorough trek through my recent viewings, I write mini-reviews/thoughts/etc. of those movies I just don't have the time to devote to writing up as a longer piece. Once again, it's time for, "Blurbs":

A fairly standard documentary about the "Ozploitation" period between the late-60's and mid-70's that saw Australian genre cinema pushed to the fore.  It's a bit too big a task for a feature to do justice to the sheer amount of material on hand, but interviews with Australian film critics and filmmakers, as well as frequent commentary from grindhouse aficianado Quentin Tarantino, really elevate the importance and urgency of the era as a period of discovery and innovation.  And, finally, it sheds some light on the completely awesome ROAD GAMES with Stacy Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis, so hopefully people who watch this and haven't seen that movie before will pick it up.

Visually this is a stunning film.  Reeds waving in the wind have never been this beautiful, or conveyed so many internalized feelings: lust, desire, jealousy, fear, etc.  And, once the demon mask makes its appearance, it is a mystical wonder to behold, with even the mother-in-law who dons it moving in unnatural ways.  A great movie that deals in tragedy.

A pretty funny movie that really gets bogged down in plot mechanics that, while amusing, sort of put a damper on the proceedings.  But, there are plenty of inspired gags, and the first 40 minutes or so are absolutely hilarious.  Also, Ricky Gervais has gigantic balls.  Who else would slip the notion that religion can only exist in a world where people can lie to one another into a mainstream Hollywood comedy?

Review: "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga

The unlikely combination of early Goldfrapp's glam-infused freak-pop and Peaches' overtly sexual content and performance, is there a better pop song/video combination this year than Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance"?  The song itself is a force to be reckoned with, propelled forward by a driving beat sure to keep any body moving, and with clever yet simple lyrics that interplay perfectly with Lady Gaga's status as a one-woman, no bullshit fashionista.  It's like Madonna, but with genuine songwriting talent.

The video is a futuristic pop brothel-by-way-of-sex-slavery, as if designed by Guillermo del Toro and directed by Stanley Kubrick's slightly more hyperkinetic, but equally cold and distant offspring, if either one of them were a pure pop connoisseur.  After the song's bridge ("I want your love / I want your revenge / I want your love / I don't wanna be friends") the video kicks into overload for the final push to the end, with Gaga donning an ultra revealing red suit and pulling off some simply amazing choreography.  It doesn't help that from the bridge onward she looks hotter than she's ever looked before, and sounds amazing, with layer upon layer of vocal track riding high atop a beat that has now fully realized its potential, and rushing forward to its very last moment.  Amazing.


In the past few years there has been a rash of "found footage" horror films, from the J.J. Abrams-produced CLOVERFIELD to horror maestro George A. Romero's DIARY OF THE DEAD.  The modern spate of these films comes from the parameters of experimentation successfully explored by THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT a decade ago: create a monstrous opposition to characters fleshed out entirely by their presence on screen, utilizing only their viewpoint - the camera - to put a distinct subjective mark on the developing events.  Some are small snapshots of epic-sized events, as in CLOVERFIELD and DIARY, while others deal in specific afflictions, like the apartment building outbreak in [REC] (remade in the U.S., well, I might add, as QUARANTINE) or the documentary crew's supernatural encounters in BLAIR WITCH.

Small-scale documentation of large-scale disaster in CLOVERFIELD.

The found footage in all these films relates "truth" to the audience.  The aesthetic choice of first-person video or newsgrade HD-tape to tell the story is, after all, something we are used to from our own exposure to home videos and the nightly news.  Its image is grainier, usually a bit darker, and somehow seems less artificial than film, especially the often well-lit, detached, third-person omniscient narratives of mainstream filmmaking.  Interestingly enough, the lighting and camera movement is often less natural in these films than in any other type of film, with light having to be filtered and created in various locations, and the camera movement much more pronounced than even regular head movement, all to produce the illusion of how things really look.



In the hope of actually giving a much more thorough trek through my recent viewings, I write mini-reviews/thoughts/etc. of those movies I just don't have the time to devote to writing up as a longer piece. Ladies and gentlement, once again, I give you an installment of "Blurbs":

I was waiting a couple years to see this one, and finally I get to say that it was pretty good. As an anthology film of sorts, albeit by a single director, several stories are interlinked at various points throughout Halloween night. There aren't any really big moments, but it's enjoyable over all, with several small thigns really shining through. In particular, I was fond of a story invovling some kids pulling a prank on an unpopular girl, Rhonda the Retard. The atmosphere works, and the payoff is kinda wicked. Ditto the opening story about a school principal's distasteful plan for improving his school. Recommended if you like this sort of thing, or are just in the mood to watch something fun and light for a 'scary movie' night or something.  Plus, Anna Paquin (see pic) in a Red Riding Hood outfit!

Rubbish. See INSIDE instead for modern pregnancy horror. Or ROSEMARY'S BABY. Or IT'S ALIVE, even. Just skip GRACE.

Yes, the Marx Brothers resort to black face, but I don't think it's mocking the thirty or so black faces on prominent display during the musical number. Insensitive, yes, but it was the '30s, and they're Jews. Regardless, this is one of their best and funniest, with all their stock characters at their best. A must-see.

I really should watch this movie more often than I do, probably, being as it's the foundation of the rape-revenge sub-genre, but it had literally been years until a couple weeks back. Simply masterful. This is my favorite Bergman - von Sydow's perfect as always. Haunting and unforgettable. Too bad so many people will never bother to watch this since it's in black and white. Oh, and gorgeous B&W at that.