Tag Archives: iceland

Film Review: The Northman

Content warning: mention of sexual assault

The Northman is the two-headed offspring of a black metal cover of “Immigrant Song” and a copy of Hamlet with half the pages torn out to be used as fuel for a funeral pyre for one of the many characters that die in this gory two hour Viking epic from writer/director Robert Eggers (The Lighthouse) and co-writer Sjon (Icelandic poet/musician/Bjork collaborator). With the exception of an interesting bit of subtext becoming text towards the film’s last act, The Northman is a stylish, yet straightforward revenge yarn done in the mode of an Icelandic saga with all kinds of other elements from classic genres, like epic, tragedy, odyssey, and maybe even a bit of sword and sorcery, served up in a wintry, eye-gouging, psychedelic slurry where Willem Dafoe going goblin mode and playing a scene-stealing and narrative-furthering Lear’s Fool is only the tenth or eleventh most interesting thing about the film.

The film’s plot follows the bloody path of Amleth (Alexander Skarsgard), a Scandinavian prince who sees his father Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke) murdered by his uncle Fjolnir (Claes Bang) in front of his own eyes. Afterwards, he sees Fjolnir carrying his mother Gudrun (Nicole Kidman) off and generally taking possession of the kingdom. This series of events causes Amleth to go into exile and join a warring band of Viking berserkers. While raiding a Rus settlement, he meets the enigmatic sorceress Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy), who is part of a shipment of slaves being sent to Fjolnir in his new home of Iceland. Amleth joins them, and vengeance ensues with a side of wolves, he-witches, Valkyries, and a kind of proto-rugby game that is more Blood Bowl than World Cup.

From the opening narration featuring a wide shot of one of Iceland’s volcanoes, Eggers and his cinematographer Jarin Blaschke set The Northman in the epic mode invoking Odin, the Norns, and Valhalla and setting up the film’s big themes of revenge versus love and fate versus free-will. There are also supernatural elements, like various prophets and seers (Including one played by a strikingly costumed Bjork that sets up the last half of the film), a magic sword, Valkyries, and barrow-wights, that are predominantly played straight as the characters try to make sense of the world around them and their purpose in life. Robert Eggers and Sjon use gods and prophecies as background elements like how William Shakespeare adding spooky bits to Hamlet and his other plays, or even reaching further back in time when Homer used them as capricious game players in his poems. The inclusion of rituals like blood sacrifices, or Amleth and Aurvandill howling like wolves while belching and farting gives The Northman an alien feel in a similar manner to the use of dialect in Eggers’ first film The Witch.

Along with trippy, magick-filled bits, The Northman features visceral fight sequences that showcases Skarsgard’s physical approach to the role of Amleth as he is grounded down as the film progresses. After an extended underground ritual/mead hall sequence, Eggers and editor Louise Ford kick into thriller mode with arrows zipping right into Aurvandill’s body. His assailants are masked at first, but then, it’s revealed to be Fjolnir, and the story really starts to take off. Eggers and Ford use long takes to show the sheer violence of the world, and this can be seen most clearly in the raid on the Rus, or when Amleth basically becomes 9th century Iceland’s Punisher (or Zodiac killer) as a night fight sequence is shown from the POV of one of Fjolnir’s henchmen who couldn’t kill Amleth as a kid. The camera lingers on Alexander Skarsgard’s face and body as he exerts his way through carnage and labor for a chance at avenging his father, rescuing his mother, and reclaiming his kingdom even though he finds out his original home belongs to Harald of Norway in a darkly humorous exchange with a slave trader.

 The Northman

Although, much of the film is bloody spectacle, The Northman does carve out some quiet, intimate moments, and Robert Eggers and Sjon create a believable romance between Amleth and Olga that is helped a lot by the physical chemistry between Skarsgard and Taylor-Joy as well as the soft light and less dreary/hellish palette used by Blaschke. At the beginning, Olga seems like just another woman, who will be enslaved and raped, but she and Amleth basically bond over their weirdness with her pointing out that he’s a literal wolf in sheep’s clothes when he stows aboard the slave ship. He can drop his guard around her, and she plays the role of co-conspirator when he’s hatching his plan of vengeance. However, The Northman isn’t a romantic comedy, and their relationship ends up being much more strained and complicated than hanging out in an Icelandic hot spring.

The Northman is the cinematic equivalent of the Old Norse-derived words in the English language, including muck, dirt, skull, knife, and depending on the linguist, piss and shit. Alexander Skarsgard shows the physical strain of the quest for revenge and brings an animalistic energy to the fight sequences where he’s a wolf like the one he befriends in one of the film’s rare cute scenes. In both his storytelling techniques and meticulous attention to detail, Robert Eggers and collaborators like the aforementioned Jarin Blaschke and costume designer Linda Muir, create an immersive time capsule into a long forgotten time that may leave some wincing and flinching and others intrigued by a display of humanity at our most primal that is gently and later violently deconstructed towards the end of the film. Think Conan the Barbarian has an existential crisis…

Overall Verdict: 9.0

Book Review: The Indian by Jon Gnarr

the indian jon gnarr

Written by the ex-mayor of Reykjavik, Jon Gnarr, The Indian follows his early life, studies the way he has lived and shows how hard it is to be different. He has never known what most people define as normal, and that’s good.

The book opens with a little introduction to the Icelandic alphabet, so one does not wonder how to pronounce some names and words. This is good to have as the book includes quite a few, at first, tricky names that are initially hard to read but as the book progresses, it gets just as if you read names like Stefan, Sam, Sarah etc.

When you first look into Gnarr’s history, it’s beguiling to think he does not care about people’s opinion and his career seems as an example of this. However, in The Indian Jon shows a vivid, and unsettling, portrayal of a person who is like a fish out of water, diverging from what others perceive as ‘normal’. His childhood is not what would usually be considered as troubled, not really, but it is hard to feel this as it is grim and yet relentlessly fun and relatable. The inability to fit amongst the others, both his classmates and his family, is easy to read about but hard to get through if you have ever been a misfit. The situations that occur are somewhat similar though distinctive in its own way.

“What they thought ‘normal’ was a mystery to me; I don’t see it until someone else tells me.”

The novel is not fiction, but it is not completely non-fiction either. The author himself states it in the beginning. What the book is a recollection of what he remembers and what others have told him. Reading it, I could say I thought everything happening in the book is credible and not far-fetched. Exactly what may seem as an exaggeration, I feel, is the complete, unbeautified and utter truth. The decision to include notes from psychotherapists is clever and enhances the realistic feel of The Indian. Many of these notes say what you feel and think explicitly as you read the novel.

The Indian by Jon Gnarr is a novel about self-discovery in a world where being different is of no good. It is an ingenious and bleak book, cleverly exploring the life of a ginger misfit, with writing that seamlessly blends Jon Gnarr’s comedic abilities with an emotional connection that results in a need to learn everything there is to know about the boy who didn’t fit in his surroundings and wanted to become an Indian.

Movie Review: Everest

everest

Everyone has thought about what it would be like to climb the highest point of the planet Earth. Everyone. However, not everybody has the ability to do so. Instead of risking your life, catch a glimpse of the experience on the biggest screen possible, preferably in IMAX.

Everest follows the story of a small group of people who go on an expedition to climb the highest mount, but as an unexpected storm hits, the crew has to face the worst of conditions.

Baltasar Kormákur, an Icelander who is doing a film of such scale for the first time, is the person behind the camera. He has done a tremendous job at directing Everest—the cinematography, pacing and character development are fantastic.

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Where the movie is at its best—that being the realistic touch that Kormákur has added, you are digging your nails into your palms, literally (at least that’s what I did). I strongly disagree with other reviewers who say the first act is slow. For me it was perfect as we get to know the characters, where and how they take up on this endeavour, who is who.

The realism is unprecedented; never did I think the film would be nearly as close to reality as it actually is. The fact that we see the bodies of the dead climbers being passed by, the ambiguity of it—it’s both selfish and yet understandable.

In a way, the spine-chilling storms, the roaming thunders shattering the ground, the unearthing of the mountaineers who may have survived, and the frozen faces and limbs—they all contribute to truly immersing the viewer to the horrible reality some hikers go through when climbing up the peaks. The strongest theme in Everest is the idea that human nature will be responsible for any occurring death, not due to severe conditions.

Jake-Gyllenhaal_Everest_2015

As far as acting goes, it’s stellar across the board–Jason Clarke, Thomas Wright, Ang Phula Sherpa, Jake Gyllenhaal, Tom Goodman-Hill, Josh Brolin and everyone else do a fine job at portraying the struggles of the characters.

Everest is a film centred around the ambience, harshness, physical impact, and sound of the extreme weather and magnificence of the Himalaya. With powerful character moments, fantastic scenery and visual effects, the film shows how small and insignificant we, the humans are, in comparison to the Mother Nature. To be fully immersed, Everest must be seen in 3D on the largest screen possible.

Overall Score: 8

star-rating-8-out-of-10

See it!

Kickstarter Spotlight: Thoughts From Iceland, a Travelogue Comic

2015-03-20-Thoughts-From-Iceland-Complete-Coverby Lonnie Mann

I took a trip to Iceland in December 2012, and then spent a year and a half creating a travelogue comic about my trip, Thoughts From Iceland. Eventually, I self-published the comic in the form of three small volumes. But since I had them printed in such short runs (only 100 each), they were really expensive. That meant I have to charge people more for them at conventions, on Etsy, etc. I want to get these into people’s hands, but those short runs just don’t make a ton of economic sense.

This Kickstarter‘s meant to raise money to print a longer run (1,000), which will mean that not only can I print high-quality, full-color comics, but they’ll cost a reasonable amount for me to print, which means I’ll be able to sell them at a much more reasonable price! Win-win for everybody, I say. This book not only compiles all the comics and bonus content from those three small volumes, it also includes over 30 pages of new stuff: watercolors and stories about my second trip to Iceland, a glossary, and an Icelandic pronunciation guide.

Some really cool people have said some really lovely things about my comic. For example, Brian K Vaughan, the creator of Saga, Y: The Last Man, Runaways, etc, happened upon my comic on ComiXology, and recommended it to someone in the letters section of Saga #19. I wrote in asking if I could use his awesome quote as a blurb, and he said he was happy to (in Saga #24)! “A terrific comic travelogue… It made me feel as if I actually visited a place I’ve never been to, one I now want to “return” to soon. Fantastic colors, too.”

And if you’re into awesome travelogues in general, like Lucy Knisley’s, you might be interested to read her blurb! “Lonnie Mann carefully parses out the wonders and pitfalls of Icelandic tourism with charming personality and enthusiastic artwork. The result is a lovely and entertaining read; his love of the trip is infectious, and his voice is adorable.”

I’d be super appreciate of any support anyone can provide, including simply letting people who might be interested know about the Kickstarter. : )

You can make a pledge to Thoughts From Iceland, a Travelogue Comic now.

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While we’re no longer picking crowd funding projects to spotlight on our site, we’re allowing project creators to make their case for their project on our platform. We remind individuals, we don’t endorse any of these projects, and that by supporting any crowd funding project, you’re taking any risks associated with doing so. – the Management