"Trollhunter" is a peculiar and original take on Norse folklore.
Why should comic books be the only source material for fantastic action thrillers? Scandinavian folktales could be the next hot thing. A few months back we saw the release of "Rare Exports," a Finnish oddity that found dark humor and scares in the mythology of Santa (beastly) and his elves (grimy, biting, angry old men).
Now comes "Trollhunter," another peculiar and original take on Norse folklore. Director André Øvredal applies the pseudo-vérité aesthetic of "The Blair Witch Project" and "Cloverfield" to this story of a student film crew whose exposé on poachers reels in a larger scandal than they anticipated. Much larger, with sharp teeth and a bad temper. Norwegian comedian Otto Jespersen plays Hans, a grizzled hunter who is actually part of a secret government force keeping the country's population of trolls out of sight and under control.
When the students accidentally catch one of his troll showdowns on film, Hans decides to go public with his story. Far from the elite fighting man you might expect, he's a world-weary grumbler, fed up with his low pay and dreadful hours. His jaded reaction to the lumbering monsters, and the terror of the wannabe Michael Moores filming him, give "Trollhunter" a fast-flowing stream of tongue-in-cheek humor.
The script is peppered with clever details. Hans and the students visit a generating station whose clueless crew has never wondered why the power lines run in a big circle (it's a giant electric fence). The Trolls have an unexplained appetite for the blood of Christians; when a pretty Muslim cinematographer joins the crew, she sparks a funny theological quandary. With impressive technical credits, stunning fjord and forest locations and a winking ownership of its own absurdity, "Trollhunter" manages to be at once spooky, satirical and endearing.
After two decades of silence, 1970s indie icon Monte Hellman returns with a mesmerizing, dark crime story. The title of "Road to Nowhere" is a key to a film riddled with riddles. Hellman establishes the film's Pirandellian mix of illusion and reality from the start, as a hand places a DVD titled "Road to Nowhere" in a computer.
From there we tumble down a rabbit hole of enigmatic characters and swampy motives. Tygh Runyan plays a filmmaker fictionalizing a real-life scandal with an irresistible combination of politics, embezzlement, sexual obsession and (possibly faked) deaths. The key to the movie is casting the right femme fatale, and non-actress Shannyn Sossamon, the mystery woman's eerie doppelgänger, wins the part and her director's heart.
Shot by shot, the film has a burnished, beautiful sheen. There are not many filmmakers who could make a long unbroken take of a dark-haired beauty drying her nails feel so charged with menace, or lull us into relaxation with a shot of a placid lake, then drop one unexpected element to the scene and shock us out of our seats. If A-B-C narrative is your thing, however, seek elsewhere.
Hellman trashes conventional chronology in a time-warped yarn that shows events out of order, tells a half-dozen stories in parallel, and challenges us to decide when we're watching "real" people or their fictional counterparts. Hellman erects few signposts along the way. If your attention wanders between the seemingly unrelated sequences, you're cooked. Sometimes the film teeters beneath the weight of its own meta-noir cleverness. Its languid, atmospheric film style will frustrate viewers who like their movies edited to the beat of a hummingbird's wing. But if you buckle down and concentrate, you'll have the pleasure of unraveling one of the few mysteries in recent years that feels innovative.
For generations, horses have been considered animals to be "broken" by their owners. Buck Brannaman has a different approach, winning their trust through gentle, empathetic instruction.
Brannaman, the professional trainer who inspired the Nicholas Evans novel "The Horse Whisperer" and Robert Redford's film adaptation, is the subject of Cindy Meehl's touching documentary. She could hardly have chosen better. The man radiates humane wisdom like a campfire radiates warmth. The film follows him as he conducts clinics teaching ranchers to work with troublesome horses. The key, he explains, is understanding that they are frightened, often damaged by poor treatment.
Treating horses with compassion, seeing the world through their distrustful eyes, will not only benefit the animals, but make their owners better humans. Many a horse's problems can be traced directly back to its owner's personal issues. Meehl introduces the particulars of Brannaman's background judiciously, layering on information until we have a full picture of the family experiences that gave him such insight into the mind-set of abused chattel.
One of the most valuable things a film can do is to take you to a place or introduce you to a character you haven't encountered before. I've never seen a cowboy like this sardonic healer, and I don't expect I will forget him -- or his lessons -- anytime soon.