Headhunters is a Must-See Suspense/Caper Film of the First Caliber, Worthy of Earning the Title of Best Film of the Summer, if Not the Year

Touted as the next Stieg Larsson (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), author Jo Nesbo is enjoying an unprecedented success as a Nordic writer. His novel, Headhunters is already set for the Hollywood treatment, even before the Norwegian film adaptation has hit American theaters. Although, having seen the film that really comes as no surprise since less then half way through the screening I knew somebody in Los Angeles would be jumping to remake it. I just didn’t realize they had already jumped.

I’m not going to give a break down of the plot because it’s too much fun experiencing the clever “Hitchcockian” storyline as it unfolds (I don’t know why so many reviewers neglect that consideration). What I will tell you is nothing more than what the film sets up in the first ten minutes of screen time. The immensely appealing Aksel Hennie (an actor who looks like he could be the offspring of Steve Buscemi and James Spader) plays a diminutive, yet dapper bon vivant who works as a successful headhunter in the cutthroat world of Norwegian recruitment consulting – we’re talking Fortune 500, CEO level here. He negotiates the hiring of men who make millions on their severance packages and gets a tidy salary in return.

However, his lifestyle (complete with a ridiculously fashionable house and even more fashionable wife) requires more than even his impressive income will allow. So, he uses his unique position to obtain information about his client’s personal possessions, and then arranges the theft of only the most valuable art objects. The trouble comes when he tries to steal an extremely rare painting from a man he doesn’t realize is a former mercenary. That’s when his supposedly “final big score” goes horribly wrong, and mercilessly continues to go from bad to much, much worse. Apparently, there’s a lot more to this ex- mercenary than just his military training, and the more Hennie learns the more he realizes the odds are already well staked against him.

In a fashion reminiscent of North by Northwest and To Catch a Thief, director Morten Tyldum (helming only his third major motion picture) takes Hennie on an exhausting, nightmarish ride as a man on the run, unable to appeal to authorities or loved ones for help. He may not be a Cary Grant, but Hennie certainly holds up as a Jimmy Stewart in The Man Who Knew Too Much, or even Robert Cummings in Saboteur, as the hero on the run who must quickly think on his toes in order to survive one outrageous turn of events after another. And newcomer Synnøve Macody Lund is wonderful as the gorgeous blonde wife (ala Grace Kelly or Eva Marie Saint) who may or may not be a femme fatale collaborating to ensnare her increasingly paranoid husband.

And then there’s the suave and sophisticated Nikolaj Coaster-Waldau (Nightwatch, Game of Thrones) in the role of the perfect villain. He relentlessly pursues Hennie with the cool charm of a modern day James Mason (I can’t seem to keep away from the Hitchcock references). Although his character contributes to the moody atmosphere as the story progresses, the director manages to play his emerging evil against Hennie’s increased vulnerability, maintaining an undertone of light-heartedness throughout the picture.

Even in the most chilling moments, when death and destruction abound there is a touch of black comedy that plays nicely between the well-matched contenders – an element abandoned by today’s Hollywood filmmakers. Let’s hope that those handling the American remake won’t lose site of this, or any of the other many elements that make Headhunters the exceptional film that it is. Of course, the original is so good I really can’t see how remaking it could possibly be a successful venture. I’m betting that it won’t.

Headhunters has already opened in Los Angels at The Landmark 12 on Pico near Westwood Blvd. It’s also currently playing at three theaters in New York City; the Empire 25 Theaters, the Beekman, and the Sunshine Cinema 5. The film will continue to open wider across the Los Angels area as well as the rest of the country throughout the month of May, so be sure to check your local listings and seek this gem out before your only option is to settle on the Hollywood version. If you do, you’ll certainly be missing out on one of the best suspense thrillers to hit the screen in ages. And until Hitchcock returns from the grave this is the best you’re going to get in shocks, surprises and playful dark humor. Who could ask for anything more from a summer film?

Fightville is an MMA Documentary with a Lot of Heart That Throws a Lackluster Punch

I love a good documentary, one that informs, educates or even draws you into a world you’ve never seen before. Fightville is not one of these documentaries. It’s particularly heartbreaking because it has so much potential for being exactly that, but falls far short of that goal. It’s actually frustrating watching the film, having your interest peek (however slight) only to have the filmmakers not complete the process of providing the audience with a fulfilling experience. If you’re already a fan familiar with this world then you’re likely to really enjoy this small journey. However, most people are not and will remain unaware of the intricacies of a fascinating sport after viewing Fightville.

My main problem with the film is that it seems that the filmmakers have taken a lot for granted. The film just jumps right in with an unknown voice describing a world that has yet to be defined. The film is obviously about fighting, but what kind and at what level? It seems like it takes forever before we, the audience are told that we are entering the lower echelons of the world of Mixed Martial Arts, and that we will be following a couple of coaches as they train two young men of potential. But what level are we starting at? What is the ultimate goal beyond winning the next fight? What are the heights to which these athletes can rise? If I’m not mistaken this is the sport of Tito Ortiz and one could ultimately end up competing in Las Vegas in front of enormous crowds for outrageous amounts of money, but I could be mistaken and no one in the film has bothered to provide this frame of reference.

What is great about the film is the story of these dedicated trainers and fighters. There is a passion expressed through their words and actions that is infectious. Gil Guillory is an aspiring P.T. Barnum type whose whole family (from his wife to his young children) participates in the grass roots promotion of the fights he sets up. Tim Credeur is obviously an experienced fighter (although we are not told about his past) who is dedicated to grooming the next generation. His gym may be located in a strip mall, but he expects nothing less than total commitment. Dustin Poirier and Albert Stainback are the two young fighters who we follow as they train and fight, sneaking peeks into their personal lives along the way, and yet we are given very little information. It’s more like hints and suggestions.

Because these men are so determined you really want to rout for them and see them succeed. Sadly, you just don’t get the full feeling of emotion you should from either the successes or the disappointments because it just hasn’t been explained thoroughly enough what’s exactly at stake, if anything. The fault has nothing to do with the subject matter, but lies squarely with the filmmakers. The material is obviously there. I just think it was handled haphazardly, resulting in a less than stellar representation of an exciting sport. Which is really too bad since this may be the first and only introduction many people have to one of the fastest growing sports in the world. After watching Fightville they’re going to be left wondering what all the fuss is about, instead of joining the excitement.

Roundtable Interview with Morgan Spurlock About His Latest FIlm, Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope

by Carrie Specht

The Roundtable interview for Morgan Spurlock was nothing too fancy. The perks were minimal, but the company was good. Besides myself (you’ll hear me at the beginning asking who the costumer is) there were about 10 others at the table. Among them were Gill Pringle, a British freelance journalist (she’s the one with the accent) and Sandrine Sahakians of TVequals.com. There were many good questions, and the conversation flows pretty nicely throughout due in large part to Spurlock’s ease and charm (he even compliments me on a “very good question” at one point). His companion for the interview, Holly was no slouch either. She is one of the subjects followed in Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope. And yes, she showed up in her specially designed costume that she made for Comic-Con in the movie. This turned out to be a lot of fun. I hope you enjoy listening to it. Just hit the play button above and kick back and eavesdrop.

Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope Works as an Excellent Primer for the Uninitiated, and a Lover Letter for Fans of the Biggest Comic Geek Meet Up of the Year

by Carrie Specht

The latest by documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold) is about the comic book fans that gather yearly at Comic-Con, the world’s largest comic book convention in San Diego, Ca. You may have heard of it and you may think you know all about it, but unless you’re one of the truly devoted you have no idea what this convention is about. Spurlock gained unparalleled access in order to celebrate a uniquely American art form and the devotees who live vicariously through it.

I went to Comic-Con a few years back. Actually, it was the year before director, Morgan Spurlock’s first visit in 2009. I had press credentials and at the time was mostly interested in the convention from the aspect of films, and how the studios were using the comic book haven as a launching pad for the huge summer action films that were like genre based. Therefore, I spent most of my time in Hall H, a gigantic space shuttle size hanger where the really big events such as film sneak peeks are held. I also took some time to peruse the exhibition hall where they have the stalls for vendors selling their wares and studios promoting their product. Overall I was not impressed with Comic-Con. However, after seeing Spurlock’s film I realized I hadn’t really seen Comic-Con at all. Not the real Comic-Con. If only I had seen A Fan’s Hope before I went. It would have been a whole different experience, one that would have led me to a whole new level of appreciation and had me coming back year after year.

Produced by comic book royalty, Stan Lee and fantasy director, Joss Whedon, Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope explores the amazing cultural phenomenon begun over 40 years ago in the basement of a modest mid-city hotel that has grown into an event attended by more than 140,000 fans. In order to capture the true spirit of the people and the place Spurlock wisely uses the traditional tools of the documentary format – talking heads and the roving camera. Everyone including Stan Lee, Guillermo del Toro, Frank Miller, Kevin Smith, Matt Groening, Seth Rogen, Eli Roth and the hottest illustrators of the day have their fan-boy moment starring down the barrel of the camera lens talking about how they turned their passions into professions, and what role Comic-Con played in their own journeys. These moments are as inspiring as they are revealing, and no doubt there will be at least one person you see whose presence in the documentary will amaze you.

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These entertaining interviews are interspersed throughout the film between the stories of five attendees Spurlock has chosen to follow as they gear up for, and then experience, the ultimate geek Mecca. Two are aspiring illustrators of varying talent who hope to impress publishers and be discovered. There’s also an old pro dealer looking for a big sale to save his business, while a young man masterminds an elaborate proposal of marriage. But the most interesting and enjoyable storyline by far is the one about a young and very talented costume and creature designer (Holly) who hopes her creations will win first prize at the annual masquerade. The film actually starts out at her garage studio where she is working on her elaborate entries for the most important contest of her life. The other four subjects are all very interesting, but every time the film cuts back to Holly there’s a giddy anticipation at discovering the latest update in her journey. Through Holly and her friends, we really get a sense of what Comic-Con is for the hard-core devotees.

Of course, there’s also a lot of coverage of the various panels, parades, costumed attendees, and crowds. Man, are there crowds. But the one thing that really stands out no matter how boisterous or frenzied the scene becomes is a constant and overwhelming since of camaraderie where ever the camera takes you. Spurlock has done an exceptional job in conveying the embracing feeling of acceptance here. There is a tangible sense that these people, in all their forms of geeky-ness, have found a home among like minds. That feeling of belonging must be one of the reasons Comic-Con has become one of the largest fan gatherings in the U.S. And no doubt one of the reasons Spurlock felt compelled to document its uniqueness for outsiders to witness, and come to understand. This is his battle cry: Geeks of the world unite – at Comic-Con in San Diego! After you see this film don’t be surprised if your inner Geek longs to join them. I know mine does.

Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope opens Thursday, April 5th in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Santa Monica 4-Plex), as well as in Seattle and San Francisco. For those who don’t live in these cities you can catch the film on VOD April 6th. And the following week you can see the film on the big screen in New York City at the Village East Cinema, as well as in Philadelphia and Boston. No word yet on a wide opening, so the Midwest can take advantage of the VOD or just wait until it gets to DVD.