The great thing about the Seattle International Film Festival, and really any big fest, is that you get the chance to see crazy-ass films you might otherwise miss. In that spirit, this installment of Encapsulated Cinema features Norwegian trolls, Hong Kong action, and an African gangster tale. Enjoy.
“The Troll Hunter”
Todd already wrote a full-length review of this one, so I won’t harp on it for too long, but goddamn, “The Troll Hunter” is a good time. I’m not a fan of the found footage genre, nor am I a big proponent of the cinema verite style. I appreciate them from an artistic standpoint, but mostly they both give me a headache. However in “The Troll Hunter” director André Øvredal tempers the shaky-cam tendencies, and instead crafts a movie that manages to be clever, funny, and scary, all at the same time. A group of film students follow a man they assume is poaching bears, but in reality is Norway’s lone troll hunter. They learn that the mythic monsters from the fairy tales of their youth are very, very real, and that their existence has been covered up and kept secret by the government. “The Troll Hunter” keeps up the pace, intensity, and humor throughout the entire movie, and never falls into the twin traps of becoming overly serious, or completely silly. That alone is an impressive achievement, and now that I’ve seen “The Troll Hunter”, I count it among the best movies I’ve seen so far this year.
“The Stool Pigeon”
“The Stool Pigeon”, director Dante Lam’s second film screening at SIFF, is a different sort of animal than “Fire of Conscience”, the first. Both fall under the wider umbrella of Hong Kong cops and criminals pictures, but “The Stool Pigeon” is more about tension and meanness rather than straight up action, though there is plenty of that to go around. Don Lee (Nick Cheung) is a manipulative cop with an obligatory haunted past, who recently experienced some unpleasantness with one of his informants getting all machete’d by some bad guys after a deal gone bad. Ghost Jr. (Nicholas Tse) is a street racer and drug dealer just out of prison. In order to save his sister from a life of forced prostitution he must become Don’s new stoolie and go undercover to help take down the notoriously ruthless jewel thief known only as Barbarian. “The Stool Pigeon” is a bit overlong, and bogs down in the middle with superfluous subplots, not to mention a dour, melancholy tone that can be oppressive at times. The story is nothing terribly original, but the film is a solid crime yarn full of double crosses, betrayals, and themes of loyalty and redemption. Everything pays off in a twisted, violent, and mean-spirited climax, where things go from bad, to worse, to so bad that there isn’t really a word to describe how fucked everything is.
Small time criminal Riva (Patsha Bay) returns home to the Congo after a decade in Angola. After a big score of stolen fuel, worth a king’s ransom in his gas starved native land, he wants to kick back and have a good time with his newly acquired wealth. This mostly involves hitting the clubs with his super horny bro J.M. (Alex Herabo), and chasing after the fire-haired temptress Nora (Manie Malone), the kept girlfriend of Azor (Diplome Amekindra), a local gangster. While Riva cavalierly traipses through his hometown, flirting with disaster the entire time, Cesar (Hoji Fortuna), the guy Riva jacked the fuel from, tracks him through the streets, out for bloody revenge. “Viva Riva!” is the first film from the Democratic Republic of Congo in decades, and it is worthy addition to the crime thriller genre. Not only is it violent, brutal, and full of torture and the usual elements, it is also a cool look from inside a country and culture largely ignored by the film-producing world.
Both “The Troll Hunter” and “Viva Riva!” open in limited release starting on June 10th.