This week in movies you missed: It's a rainy day. It's a rainy weekend. How about a good ol' rousing Viking movie?
... except this one's more trippy than rousing, to be honest. Prepare for the weird.
Nicolas Winding Refn, director of Drive, screened his new movie (again with Ryan Gosling) at the Cannes Film Festival this past week. Spectators booed, and critics largely panned it as a laconic spectacle of meaningless violence. (More info from Vulture here.)
So what better time for us to watch one of Winding Refn's past laconic spectacles of meaningless violence, which is still a lot more interesting than most directors' movies? Valhalla Rising skipped our theaters in 2010 and is now available on Netflix Instant and various other services.
What You Missed
So, it's 1000 AD or thereabouts, Scotland I guess, and this dude with one eye (Mads Mikkelsen) has been a slave for, like, ever. He can kill anybody with his bare hands, usually in a few seconds flat, and the Vikings are really into no-frills gladiatorial combat, so his skills see regular use.
So, eventually our hero (?) slips his chain and kills all his captors. (If you're in it for the on-screen carnage, which I wasn't, this is where the movie peaks.) Accompanied by a kid slave (Maarten Stevenson), he wanders until he meets some Christian Vikings who are dead set on a voyage to the Holy Land to join the Crusades. Problem is, their navigational skills leave something to be desired.
After floating in reddish mist for what feels like about 20 minutes of screen time, the characters find themselves in a sun-swept, surreally beautiful landscape that is clearly not the Holy Land. While the Christians gnash their teeth and doubt their God, One Eye (as the kid has named him, in the movie's sole humorous moment) calmly sets about the business of survival.
Why You Missed It
Two U.S. theaters and a domestic gross of about $31,000.
Should You Keep Missing It?
The summary above sounds flippant because there's no other way to describe the "plot" of Valhalla Rising. This is not a script-driven film: Mikkelsen's character doesn't speak a single word throughout its runtime, and not much happens (that makes sense, anyway).
And yet, I enjoyed Valhalla Rising as a trancey, almost pictorial spectacle. It looks a lot like a depopulated version of 300, from the reverent attention to dudes' naked chests to the carefully composed and colored landscapes, but it has no silly story to distract you. The throbbing quasi-metal music is a nice touch.
Granted, One Eye has prophetic visions washed in red, which means he could well be an avatar of the Norse folk's one-eyed god, Odin. Or not. Either way, Winding Refn clearly has more sympathy for his hero's approach to life — which involves killing when necessary, but not gratuitously — than for the Christians'.
You know that whole thing about Denmark being a kind, gentle, humanistic paradise? Like his fellow countryman Lars von Trier, current cinema's most notorious misanthrope, Winding Refn appears to want to remind us there's another side to everything.
Verdict: More than anything, VR reminded me of Werner Herzog's Aguirre, the Wrath of God and its hellish vision of Europeans exploring the New World. If you come expecting that and not an action movie, you may like it, too.
In Theaters This Week
First, the high culture: the Savoy has François Ozon's In the House, which looks intriguing. For the family: an animated Epic. Then the rest: I think you know what to expect from The Hangover Part III and Fast & Furious 6, a follow-up to the surprisingly entertaining and thoroughly stupid Fast Five.
On DVD This Week
A movie I kinda liked (Side Effects), a movie that at least exceeded my low expectations (Beautiful Creatures), and a movie that pretty much sucked (Parker). Plus Stand Up Guys and The Last Stand, just to confuse you.
And season 5 of "True Blood." I defected early in season 3, so I wonder what kind of supernatural critter Sookie is getting it on with now.