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Tuesday, January 30, 2018
Most won’t be aware that the film THE SNOWMAN is the fourth in a series of books written by Norwegian author Jo Nesbo. The character is a nonconformist who works on the Oslo police force using unusual methods to get results. A sometime alcoholic and chain smoker he gets the job done he’s assigned. And much of his back story is missing with this, the first film to feature the character even though it’s based on the seventh book in the series.
The film opens in the past with a man coming to visit a woman and her young son. He’s instructing the young boy and bedding the mother who before he leaves threatens to tell his wife who the boy’s father is. When he abruptly leaves the woman gathers her son in the car, drives out onto an ice covered lake and then allows herself to drown after he gets out of the car.
Fast forward to the present where we find a man sleeping off a drunk on a park bench in the cold snowy land of Norway. He wakes and stumbles about, finally arriving at work where we discover his name is Harry Hole and he’s a lead investigator for the Oslo police. The early part of the film moves along at a snail’s pace and reveals bits and pieces without offering too much.
A woman goes missing and left behind is a snowman in the front yard, a reference Harry notices since before he left to join the investigation a card addressed to him with a poem and drawing of a snowman was delivered. Looking deeper into the case Harry begins to think this is associated with a killing that took place years ago with a similar style, again with a snowman left behind.
Several murders occur and Harry is assigned to the case along with two incompetent officers and a new recruit named Katherine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson). As each case unfolds it soon becomes apparent that they are on the track of the first serial killer in Norway. Subplots are revealed, personal reasons for Katherine to be tracing the potential involvement of a millionaire named Arve Stop (J.K. Simmons) who may be the killer and other suspects and clues are followed.
Sifting through it all is Harry, dealing with issues of his own involving his teenage son and ex-wife Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg) as well as her new boyfriend, Mathias (Jonas Karlsson). Mathias does his best to help Rakel and the young boy when he can as well as attempting to befriend Harry as well. Several different scenes have him aiding Harry to stay connected to his son as well as offering him prescriptions to help him battle his alcoholism.
More clues mount and a past case involving another investigator named Rafto (an almost unrecognizable Val Kilmer) looking into the past acts committed by this same killer helps to provide clues as to who the killer might be. Both Harry and Katherine have connections to that past case and it helps to motivate them to catch the killer this time around. With some luck they will make sure the killer doesn’t have the opportunity to do so again.
What could have been a very good movie instead ends up being mediocre at best. The first third of the film is so incredibly slow that it becomes a chore to watch. Bits and pieces are involved in telling us who these characters are and their motivations behind their actions but to the point of losing interest so much that you miss some of the items presented. The second act of the film is a little better, tying up those various components to make a bit more sense and offering some more clues that help the viewer get a better idea of what is going on. It isn’t until the third act that things begin to make sense and move along at a more standard pace, offering a payoff by the film’s end.
Fassbinder felt wasted to me here. Having seen him in other films and enjoyed his performances in them I was surprised to see that he had little more to do here than act brooding, drunk or befuddled. From all I’ve read about the character I wouldn’t associate those traits with him but that seems to be the way he’s written in this screenplay. The rest of the casts fares better but not much. Well-known actors show up in bit parts and those in the lead feel under or wrongfully used.
If you’re going to set a film in a land covered in snow with a white or grey background for the majority of the time the action should make you ignore the setting and delve into the story. That doesn’t happen here. Perhaps had they begun with the first book and let the viewer get to know the character it might have been different but that wasn’t the case. The end result is a movie that’s so so but that made this viewer want to seek out the source material to see if it was any better. My guess is that it was. The end result is a movie that could have been a launch for a series of films but that did so poorly hopes for that are gone.
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I remember years ago my uncle told me he’d seen a movie he thought was hilarious called A NEW LEAF. He told me the basic plot and it sounded interesting but for some reason I never got the chance to see it. Keep in mind this was years before the first VCR was easily accessed. I seem to recall seeing it was available on VHS at one time but few if any stores I went to had it. With Olive Films releasing it as part of their Olive Signature collection I finally got the chance to see it and I’m glad I did. I just hope more will make it happen as well.
Written, directed by and starring Elaine May (her first directorial job) the movie stars Walter Matthau as Henry Graham, a wealthy fop who spends his time with a fast sport car or at the local racquet club avoiding his attorney when the movie opens. He’s finally reached and meets with the attorney who tells him he is broke, no money whatsoever. It turns out he’s wasted it away his inheritance on his exorbitant lifestyle, both his interest and principal.
With no one to get money from, no prospects for a job since he’s never done a single thing in his entire life, he goes from place to place for one last visit. When he returns home he discusses his plight with his manservant Harold (George Rose), Harold suggest that he take a short term loan from his uncle and then use what talents he has to find a suitable wife who is wealthy. At first reluctant to do so since he’s set in his way and not a very friendly person willing to share anything he co-opts the idea while keeping to himself the plan to murder his soon to be wife, whoever she might be.
His uncle Harry (James Coco) agrees laughing all the while. He forces Henry to put up anything that he has left as collateral and then adds his own stipulation to their agreement. Henry must find a wife and marry her within 6 weeks or forfeit everything to Harry.
Henry sets out to find a mate among the wealthy but it isn’t as easy as he expected. On the last week he meets Henrietta Lowell (May), a clumsy wallflower with no living relatives who inherited a fortune from her father. Henrietta is two things: a botanist who teaches because she loves it and a complete and utter klutz.
As Henry tries to woo her he finds plenty of competition from those who have a stake in the game. First up is her attorney Andy McPherson (Jack Weston) who has sights on her wealth as well. Then his uncle Harry provides Andy with the ammunition needed to shoot down Henry. But this is a dark romantic comedy we’re talking about here and of course the pair are wed. Now the question becomes where and how will Henry take out his new wife? And just who will stand in his way as he makes that attempt?
The laughs in this film are plentiful with most of them going to Matthau. For some reason Matthau always played a slob of a character, most notably as Oscar Madison in THE ODD COUPLE. But here he’s well dressed and coiffed as a bon vivant who turns up his nose at those he feels are beneath him while depending on Harold to motivate him. Several comments and lines are funnier spoken in the way only Matthau could say them, my favorite being when talking to Harold after a night out with Henrietta when he says “Never have I seen one woman in whom every social grace was so lacking. Did I say she was primitive? I retract that. She's feral. I've never spent a more physically destructive evening in my life. I am nauseated. I limp. And I can feel my teeth rotting away from an excess of sugar that no amount of toothpaste can dislodge. I will taste those damn Malaga coolers forever. That woman is a menace not only to health, but to western civilization as we know it.”
May shines here as well playing the shyest of women to walk this planet while at the same time exuding an innocence and charm that draws you to her at the same time. When she makes mistakes or does something klutzy you feel for her. The same holds true knowing what Henry intends to do with her once he has the opportunity. She is completely unaware of his true intentions and sees only the good in him, falling for him immediately and enjoying any and all time spent with him no matter how he might treat her.
May’s direction is superb as well though how much of her intentions remained once the film was taken from he is up for discussion. Running over on time, shooting too much footage and taking forever to eventually turn in a final print, various people in the extras included here note that the film was taken from her by Paramount who didn’t understand exactly what she was going for. It’s even noted that the film had a much darker nature than what we see here. Still what we are offered remains one of the funniest comedies I’ve seen in some time. Not bad for a movie made back in 1971.
Olive has chosen to offer a high quality restoration from 4K scan of original camera negative. The extras include a commentary track featuring film scholar Maya Montanez Smukler, THE CUTTING ROOM FLOOR: EDITING A NEW LEAF featuring an interview with editor Angelo Corrao, WOMEN IN HOLLYWOOD: A TRAGEDY OF COMIC PROPORTIONS featuring an interview with director Amy Heckerling, the original trailer and a 16 page booklet featuring an essay entitled ODE ON A GRECIAN NIGHTGOWN written by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and the short story the film was based on, THE GREEN HEART, written by author Jack Ritchie.
If you never heard of this film it’s not much of a surprise. With the exception of the year it was released when it was nominated for several awards, May was known more for her stand-up comedy with Mike Nichols and less as an actress then and later and Matthau was an older actor by this time. As the years passed after its initial release neither was the box office draw they once were and fans during the early years of video were more inclined to look for the newest films at the time. Discs has made it possible to rediscover some of the best movies out there at an affordable price and Olive is one company leading the way to provide that opportunity. Take my word for it, this is a movie that’s worth adding to your collection. I know I’ll be taking it out on occasion when I need a laugh.
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