Valhalla Rising

nicolas-winding-refn-directs-ryan-gosling-in-drive

While doing press for Valhalla Rising, Danish American filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn announced that the film marked a new stage in his career. After the manic, Brechtian anti-biopic Bronson; the sprawling Pusher trilogy that’s more Gaspar Noe than Gaspar Noe; and the little-seen Fear X, Refn began a series of films about quiet, enigmatic supermen. He continued this focus with Drive, his commercial breakthrough, and has now followed it up with Only God Forgives, which sees a VOD and limited theatrical release this Friday. While Bronson and the first Pusher film were justifiably celebrated, it’s this current stage of his career that has, for many, defined what “a Nicolas Winding Refn film” means: atmospheric, ultra-violent, deliberately paced, heavy on style. Refn is one of the strangest young auteurs working today, in terms of both his esoteric films and his occasionally bizarre interviews. And his career is only going to get more interesting: his vast slate of possible subsequent projects that include a Logan’s Run remake, a Wonder Woman movie, an adaptation of the comic Button Man, a prequel to the 80s midnight flick Maniac Cop, and an erotic horror film titled I Walk With the Dead. So while he’s on the up and up, here’s some free advice (for fans and filmmakers alike) from the man responsible for Mads Mikkelsen’s one eye, Tom Hardy’s curly mustache, and “The Gosling Stare.”

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Culture Warrior

Masculinity has always been the major topic of concern in the work of Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn. Just look at the series he made his name with, the Pusher trilogy, which in three installments provide three very different but equally compelling stories of occasionally brazen, often buffoonish masculinity within various facets of the Copenhagen illegal drug trade. So it is no surprise that the directors latest work (his ‘breakthrough’ years, if you will) are continuously concerned with the turbulent lives of men, culminating this weekend with his most ‘mainstream’ entry, Drive (in purely box-office terms, as Drive in its opening weekend made more than 84x what his previous two films made together, yet the film is still ripe with Refn’s eccentric signature). Refn’s thematic and narrative preoccupation with masculinity has produced three fascinating portraits in as many years. The temporal and social contexts of Bronson, Valhalla Rising, and Drive couldn’t be more disparate, but between them he’s produced an unofficial trilogy of sorts connected not only through his deliberate pacing and striking, almost invasive visual style, but more importantly through their shared concerns as portrayals of three aggressive men who wander their respective environments in solitude.

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This Week in DVD

This week sees a first in the history of the column… at least I think it’s a first. Not only are there no new DVDs worth buying this week, but there are also none worth avoiding. It’s an all rental week here at the West Coast offices of FSR! That may be because this is a fairly light week of releases in general which is odd considering the proximity to Christmas, but just because the pickings are slim doesn’t mean they’re not worth watching. The DVD pick of the week is the surprisingly funny, dirty, and sweet romantic comedy Going the Distance. You shamefully missed in theaters… but now have a second chance to watch in the comfort of your own home and in the arms of someone you love to play with naked. Also out this week? Part three of the emotionally vacant Twilight series, Eclipse! Nicolas Cage playing with his wand in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice! Tom Cruise in Knight and Day, the better than expected action comedy with worse than expected CGI! Two documentaries about Walt Disney that both avoid the subject of cryogenics! And more!

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Nicolas Winding Refn Valhalla Rising

To say Nicolas Winding Refn is interesting would be a major understatement. Refn oozes with ambiguity, blending poignancy and a sense of wackiness. I’d be lying if I said I could take in everything he was saying, but like his films, the more you think about what he’s trying to get across the more you understand. Refn is unlike any other director out there in terms of the films he makes and the way he describes them. Refn is currently out promoting his latest and best film yet, Valhalla Rising. It’s a change of pace from his previous cult hit Bronson, but that’s what he’s interested in. Refn never wants to repeat himself and he even said he’d go as far as making a romantic comedy to a musical to remain unpredictable. While Refn and I mostly talked about his genre bending Viking film, we did dive into the diversity of his films, the reoccurring themes of his work, and Refn even discussed why Pretty Woman (yes, the Julia Roberts prostitute romance romp) is the darkest film he’s ever seen. So yes, Refn had plenty of interesting things to say.

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This week’s column recommends you import the latest movie from the director of Bronson. Before you do though, take a close look at the DVD cover within. Then put any thoughts of epic action or grand battle scenes out of your mind. The cover art lies.

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Please be R rated! Please be R rated! Please be R rated! Please be R rated!

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When’s the last time you were excited about a Harrison Ford movie? Go ahead, you can be honest. (Although if you say the most recent Indiana Jones stinker I’m going to have to ask you to leave.)

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