New on video, two recent international films – one from the extreme Northern hemisphere, the other from its opposite – again demonstrate the universality of human nature … at least when it involves mayhem, violence, and humor.
In both cases, the cast and director may be unfamiliar to most American audiences. However, without detracting from the originality and certainly the quality of the films, the influence of the Coen brothers and Quentin Tarantino is obvious. So if you liked Fargo and Pulp Fiction, these two movies are worth a try.
Let’s start up North first with Jackpot, a 2011 Norwegian film based on a story by Jo Nesbø, the justly acclaimed author of the Harry Hole detective series. The plot is straightforward enough and in its basic outline, not particularly original. In fact, it’s a variation of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Tale, written in the 14th century, which itself was an adaptation of an even earlier story. (Sam Raimi, director of The Evil Dead and the first Spider-Man trilogy, used yet another rendering of the same plot in his 1998 thriller, A Simple Plan.)
It’s in the complex narrative approach (with lots of flashbacks) as well as the cinematic details (acting and directing) that Jackpot delivers.
The movie opens with a bloodbath at a combination porn store/strip club. As the police question the sole survivor and obvious suspect – found pinned beneath the body of an obese patron, and clutching a shotgun – the story comes to life. Three ex-cons and their supervisor Oscar are, oddly, joint winners of a football (aka soccer) lottery. At that point, greed begins to rear its ugly head, along with all sorts of mitigating factors, resulting in a series of brutal/comic demises, which lead up to the opening, but not quite final, shootout.
Needless to say, nothing is quite as it seems, except for the bewilderment of hapless Oscar (Kyrre Hellum), the only patron of the club/store who wasn’t slaughtered in the debacle. Adapted and directed with élan by Magnus Martens, Jackpot even manages to incorporate a sweet love story within its heady brew of humor and violence.
Down under in Australia, brothers Cameron and Colin Cairnes present even more blood and bigger laughs in their debut film, 100 Bloody Acres. Three friends on their way to a music festival cross paths with two brothers whose organic fertilizer business has recently been going great guns, thanks to the addition of human body parts to the process. The preferred ingredients are human roadkill, but the entrepreneurs will take what they can get.
Don’t worry: 100 Bloody Acres is anything but a clone of Wrong Turn or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Despite the gore and premise, the movie is solidly grounded in a truly witty script by the Cairnes, with some equally winning performances from the cast of motley characters.
As Sophie, a lovely redhead in whom everyone is interested (for one reason or another), Anna McGahan has both the looks and talent to be a major star. Sophie is spunky and endearing. Her jealous boyfriend James (Oliver Ackland) and their hophead friend Wes (Jamie Kristian) are more one-dimensional, particularly in her shadow. Still, their mutual idiocy in the face of bloody disaster generates laughs when least expected.
The Morgan Brothers, the fertilizer experts, are a study in contrasts. Reg (Damon Herriman from TV’s Justified) is a bit of lunkhead, a frustrated romantic who develops a soft spot for Sophie. His brother Lindsay (Angus Sampson) is a hulking brute, with his mind and grinding machine focused squarely on the family business. Except, that is, for an unlikely tryst with the unlikeliest of partners.
Bolstered by a soundtrack featuring down-home Aussie tunes as well as a funny advertising ditty for Morgan Brothers Organic Fertilizer, 100 Bloody Acres is an unexpected hoot with guts ’n’ grins to spare. The Cairnes brothers’ second film, Scare Campaign, was released in Australia this past November.
I’m keeping an anxious eye out for it to appear over here.