Occupation Viking: Valhalla Snoozing

I have been on a quest for the best Viking movie. My travails are logged in my posts marked Occupation: Viking, and I’ve found gems and turds along the way. A tracker once told me the first rule is “watch out for the shit turds,” and that applies to movie reviewing as well.

VALHALLA RISING is by director Nicholas Winding Refn, better known for his garish and contemplative adaptation of James Sallis’s kick-ass noir novel DRIVE. I enjoyed Drive very much, even as it diverged from the novel. I did think the director lingered too long on many shots, perhaps hoping to be mistaken from Michael Haneke or Werner Herzog, but a long shot is not always a deep shot.

Valhalla Rising begins without introduction or fanfare at a warrior’s fight ring in what I think is Scotland. A one-eyed competitor is uncaged and defeats his opponents with unrivaled brutality. He is kept leashed to a pole in the ring because no one can stop him, otherwise. He fights two men, a ditchy enterprise in reality, but it plays out for real. One-Eye bites a chunk of one man’s neck out, spits it at the other, and then strangles him with his own lead rope. Later he bashes someone’s skull open, brains aplenty. Disembowels another. But instead of being a portent of the brutal reality of combats to come, the story fires its bloody wad in the first reel, and never recaptures the energy it released.

The rest of the picture has One-Eye (who is presumably a captive Viking) led by Christian Scots to the Holy Land to fight the heathen. They wander in the mists on a boat. They arrive in a strange land they believe is hell, and go mad as their belief systems crumble. It has been compared to AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD, but I like that film quite a bit. Herzog knows how to make a static shot interesting, and how to build tension with the unknown. Refn is still learning. Drive was a huge improvement over this film. Valhalla Rising is the secondmost disappointing Viking film I’ve watched, the absolute worst being Severed Ways. I watched an actor shit on camera and wipe his ass with leaves in that one. This was a lot better, but that is faint praise.

The Viking Rankings, so far:

The 13th Warrior (Antonio Banderas as an Arab, veers from the book’s undead, but great fun)
The Vikings (A ridiculous Hollywood sword epic but loads of fun)
How to Train Your Dragon (much better than you’d give it credit for)
Outlander (Vikings vs. Predator… great dumb fun!)
Beowulf & Grendel (an overlooked “what really happened” tale, quite enjoyable)
Erik the Viking (Terry Jones of Monty Python, with predictable absurdity)
Beowulf (the Zemeckis 3D-animated one; pretty but boring)
Pathfinder (A great premise stupidly ruined. Vikings don’t know ice breaks?)
Valhalla Rising
Severed Ways (must be seen to be believed)

Yet to see:
When the Raven Flies
The Long Ships
The Norseman
The Viking Sagas
The Last of the Vikings
Embla: The White Viking

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of the women

We are your overlords.
Happy Halloween!

© 2010 Tommy Salami

The Vikings

In memory of Tony Curtis, whose obnoxious New York accent pissed off snobs and critics everywhere, I bring you one of Hollywood’s best sword and sandal epics: THE VIKINGS!

Played for pulp, starring Kirk Douglas as a brutish warrior and Tony Curtis as his secret half brother, both sons of the rapacious Ragnar, played by none other than Ernest Borgnine. It’s one of those melodramatic sagas, so let me lay out the plot for you: Ragnar was raiding the English coast one day, when he slew the king of Northumbria and raped his queen. When the king’s slovenly brother took the crown, the queen learned she was with child, and fled to exile, since kings have a nasty habit of chopping up babies who are the rightful heir, and all that. Her son Eric grows up to be Tony Curtis, Bronx accent and all, but he is enslaved by the Vikings. Ragnar’s other son is the prodigal Einar, the paragon of all things Viking, the eye patched and ripped Kirk Douglas, who’s always got a throwing axe in one hand and a flagon in the other.

One of the most memorable scenes is when the one-eyed Einar plays a drunken axe-throwing game, trying to cut the locks off a slave girl’s hair. While the Vikings are portrayed as cartoonish brutes, they certainly don’t play down the pillaging and brutality too much. The Britons want revenge, and eventually Ragnar is captured and thrown into a pit of ravenous wolves. But his unknowing son throws him a sword, so he may die like a Viking and go to Valhalla. This puts Tony Curtis on the British shit list, so he flees, and eventually teams up with Einar, as they both want to kill a bunch of Englishmen and get their grubby mitts on Princess Morgana, played by the lovely Janet Leigh. Curtis and Leigh were married in real life, so you can guess that Kirk doesn’t get to show her his other little one-eyed Viking. But not for lack of trying!

The movie has many fun battle sequences, campy though some are. I love any movie where Ernest Borgnine gets to put on that maniacal smile of his and galumph around with a sword, guzzling ale and cackling with glee. As I am one of the great apes, barely shorn, I cannot empathize with Kirk and Tony, who even in their prime, I could use as weights in my gym. So I like seeing a big burly brute like myself get to cavort on screen, even if he ends up as wolf chow. The dialogue is peppered with delightful purple prose, like “Love and hate are two horns on the same goat,” and “Look how he glares at me… If he wasn’t fathered by the black ram in the full of the moon my name is not Ragnar!”

So sure, this is far from historically accurate, and is cheesy in a way only old Hollywood could make it, but it’s still a lot of fun to see Kirk, Tony, Ernest and Janet in a costume epic with bloody battles, campy drinking games, and bawdy dialogue. In memoriam to the great Tony Curtis, watch THE VIKINGS! Thanks to my pal Keith over at Coolness is Timeless for posting the youtube clip.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Occupation: Viking! Severed Ways

I had planned this Viking project many months before finally renting Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America. I heard it was about Vikings vs. American Indians, and was set to metal. I though it would be something like Pathfinder (full review) only less stupid. It was much less stupid, but it was also less entertaining. My alternate title for it would be The Blairviking Poopwitch Project.

It too recreates the meeting of Vikings and Native Americans (called Skraelings here) in 1007 A.D., only this time the Vikings flee, riddled with arrows by a force with superior numbers and a proclivity for fighting in choked forests instead of farm villages. Two men are left behind, and decide to make their way north to a settlement, through enemy territory. At first, the slow camerawork and over-saturated colors reminded me of a parody of Terence Malick, and I was very patient with it. It has a documentary feel in parts, and is entirely in Norse with subtitles.

The colors, children! The colors!

A short time later, we get to watch him take a dump in the woods, as graphic as Pink Flamingos without any of the shock humor, and wipe with leaves. At first, I thought, alright. It’s a survival picture; we never get to see the mundane and boring stuff in movies about survival. This could be interesting, in a primitive survival sort of way. They spear some fish, we watch them cook on hot rocks by the fire, and thankfully they make fire a lot quicker than Tom Hanks in Cast Away. And then, while they are cutting firewood, metal starts playing and one of the Vikings starts headbanging.
Now, I love me some Scandinavian metal. Dimmu Borgir, Moonsorrow, drone like Sunn O))) and folk like Korpiklaani. And I applaud the inclusion of Dimmu Borgir on the soundtrack. But until now the tone has been utterly different. A few hours later they see some monks, attack them because hey, we’re Vikings, and burn the only shelter they’ve found. Milky explained it best: Why are they burning the church down? Because metal is playing. The rest of the story plays out with helpful title cards like “Separation,” so you know they’ll get separated. One guy gets captured by “Skraelings,” and a woman ties him up and hops on his Viking sword. No, you don’t see anything.
I liked arty films better when it meant gleeful nudity, instead of a guy taking a dump in the woods. Will our boring Viking comrades find each other? Can they escape the wilderness? Do American Indians see in weird tunnel vision, as the cinematographer would have us believe? You’ll never know unless you rent this. For Odin’s sake, don’t buy it. Even if you’re a freak with a Viking poopfetish, I’m sure you can find it online. I wanted to like this, but it’s a tedious and pretentious mess. The idea and the concept are pretty cool- even dubbing the entire thing in Norse- but the characters never manage to evoke a personality, and the pointless plot is predictable and so sparse that its running time is mostly filled with shaky footage of a guy lugging a camera around in the woods. And filming poop.

Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America on Netflix

All reviews in the Occupation: Viking project

Oh boy, sleep! That’s where I’m a Viking!

Thus spake the immortal Ralph Wiggum. He’s a Viking in his “head movies,” as Simple Jack would say. But what real movies with Vikings are there to entertain us, not make our eyes rain? I’ve got a bunch on deck and I’m going to watch them all. Did I miss any?

Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America
Made by a crew of 8 people and scored with Black metal like Dimmu Borgir, this minimalist tale of the Vinland saga tells the tale of two Vikings left behind in an ill-fated raid on the New World. Essentially it is shaky scenes of Vikings pooping in the woods and wiping with leaves, killing chickens and salmon, burning huts and watching newts to Dethklok. I’m watching this with Milky right now, which inspired this project.

The 13th Warrior
Based on Michael Crichton’s Beowulf-reimagining The Eaters of the Dead, this one may play with history by having a Saracen visit the north, but it’s a lot of fun and pretty realistic. The guys who play the Vikings are all Nordic fellows and the “Grendel” they find is plausible, scary and a good fight. Antonio Banderas plays the Arab traveler with good humor, this is a top of the line B movie.

The Vikings
Obvious. Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis! A good old Hollywood epic. I imagine this one’s as historically accurate as my dream movie of “The Jeffersons” meeting Thomas Jefferson, but Douglas is always good. Plus Ernest Borgnine as “Ragnar” makes for a must watch.

The Long Ships
There is a legend about a great bell, called “The Mother of Voices,” made of pure gold, three times the size of a man, made by monks many years ago… with Richard Widmark and Sidney Poitier. Those guys elevate most material, so I’ll give it a shot.

I actually liked this all-CG fantasy by Robert Zemeckis quite a bit. It gets silly at times- Beowulf fights Grendel naked in an Austin Powers-inspired mead hall battle, but it’s good adventure fare. I think making it all CG was a mistake, but Grendel and the Dragon both looked great. I have it on HD-DVD and I’ll rewatch it for this project. There’s also a Christopher Lambert movie called Beowulf, set in the future, and I may suffer through it for the hell of it.

Beowulf & Grendel
This tried to tell things from Grendel’s perspective, making him one of the last Neanderthals whose father was killed by Vikings. It’s not all action, but I enjoyed it quite a bit, and the Icelandic locations are stunning. The effects are good, and I’d love to watch this again.

On the other hand, I’ll never watch this turd again. I really wanted to see Indian braves battle Vikings, but they ruin the premise by making Karl Urban be a Viking child left behind, raised by Indians, and have to fight more Vikings who come later. Vikings who don’t know what ice is. WTF? According to Led Zeppelin, they come from the land of the ice and snow. This movie is fatally stupid and best avoided, but I’ll eviscerate it again for your pleasure. Original review here.

When the Raven Flies
I came upon this ’80s Icelandic revenge flick about a young boy who is spared by Viking invaders and avenges his family 20 years later, and I have to give it a chance. I imagine Icelanders would make a good Viking movie!

Erik the Viking
This was a silly movie by Terry Jones, but he’s a noted historian and a funny Python alumn. I haven’t seen it in years, and want to watch it again. There’s also an Italian ’60s production of the same name I think I can get my hands on.

This one is a kid’s fantasy where Thor and Loki take two disobedient children to Asgard, and they get a tour of Viking mythology. Should be fun to see.

Embla: The White Viking
Another Scandinavian movie, this one involves the Viking clash with Christianity. But this quote sold me: “By the legacy of almighty Thor, we shall see the enemy in Valhalla!”

I loved this recent B-movie of Alien vs. Vikings. It just came out on DVD, and is definitely worth watching again. Full review here.

Grendel Grendel Grendel
An animated film from the ’80s, from Grendel’s point of view. As voiced by Peter Ustinov. Nostalgia ahoy!

The Last of the Vikings
Oh, cheesy Italian movies from the ’60s how I love you. I think this will be a lot like a Hercules movie with different costumes.

The Viking Queen
A Hammer film that seems to be about Druids vs. Romans; a VINO, Viking in name only. I think I have a line on it, and it’s loosely based on Boudicca, so I’ll give it a shot.

The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent
Two words: Roger Corman. Then again, how can I avoid a movie with such a great title?

The Viking Sagas
Starring Ralf Moeller, this one is almost universally panned, but it’s on NetFlix streaming, so why not?

Tarkan vs. the Vikings
I have shamefully ignored cheapo Turkish films and this seems like a good place to start.

So, are there other Viking movies worthy of the name that should be considered? Besides of course, this epic kitten film where they come from the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot springs flow: Viking Kittens

In Copenhagen, too much is just enough

Another blast from the past, this was a delicious decadent monstrosity of a burger I had in Copenhagen with my friend Sonny the Viking. It just goes to show you that America doesn’t have the insane burger market cornered, not one bit. This biggie was topped with a fried egg, curry sauce, and caviar. I think with the exchange rate it was $12, or 3836 kröner. The thick cut fries in the background were well spiced and charred to tasty crispness. The place was called Sporjeven and their website has few words in English, but “probably the best burger in town” is right there. And while I didn’t sample many- we had fried eel, doner kebab, and sushi- I’d say this was one of the most memorable burgers in my worldly travels. I think it was the Karryburger but I like typing Hvidløgsburger, so I’m calling it that (even though that’s a garlic burger).

Sonny overlooking a platter of fried eels (from his hovercraft)

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Outlander. No, not the Sean Connery “shotguns in space” movie from the ’80s, this time it’s Alien meets Predator in a Viking settlement, with Jim Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ) playing a space traveler named Kainen, hunting down a horrific dragon-like creature called a Moorwen. Can Space Jesus kill the predalienodragon, using only iron age weapons and whale carcasses? Like Doomsday, this film is derivative of its betters from 20 years ago but still makes for good entertainment.
When his ship crashes with the Moorwen in tow, he has to join with Vikings led by King Rothgar (John Hurt) and Gunnar (Ron Perlman) to defeat it, which is a bit of a task, since his space-faring folks usually nuke them or pepper them with plasma cannon fire. The story holds together when most B-movies of this type don’t bother. They don’t waste excruciating minutes of dialogue explaining everything- we see some flashbacks of Kainen’s family colonizing the Moorwen planet, and the terrible price they pay for their hubris. and while Kainen the Outlander is distrusted by his Viking captors- when he proves himself, we don’t get the lazy writing of having people still not trust him.
He does have to deal with Wulfric, next in line for the throne, seeing him as ambitious competition, but they bond over a charming Viking-era contest called “shields.” Rothgar’s daughter Freya (Sophia Myles, Underworld: Evolution) has a bit of Eowyn in her- she can swing a sword and wants to fight, and she gets to be more than just she-warrior eye candy. Ron Perlman (Hellboy) is a bald, raving lunatic swinging two big fuck-off hammers to our delight. He looked like he could beat the Moorwen to death with his nutsack, but the hulking beast has plenty of tricks. The real surprise is Cliff Saunders as Boromir (where have I heard that name before?), the oddly Irish-sounding warrior, quick to share his bag of mead. He’s the smart-ass of the bunch and keeps things from getting too serious.
The pacing lags a bit here and there, but the creature looks great and manages to be quite menacing; the characters are enjoyable and while the scares aren’t all that unexpected, the battles are great and isn’t that what a Viking movie where Space Jesus comes to kill Grendel is all about? Once you get past the ridiculous concept, they handle it quite well, and it’s a lot like The 13th Warrior‘s original source material- the source of the Beowulf legend with a supernatural twist. It’s a great popcorn movie and not as groan-inducing as most movies of that moniker. Milky and I loved it. many bellies were slapped in enjoyment of this fine piece of guy cinema.
Writer-director Howard McCain fought hard for this project to make it to light, and I am not frightened that he is writing the screenplay for the new Conan movie coming out next year. That project is still in development, and unfortunately will live or die on who plays the barbarian. I hope Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the obvious choice, at least gets a chance. He’s got the mighty thews and the charisma to make it work. Forget The Scorpion King and give The Rundown a try, it’s an overlooked, fresh and funny action flick where he shows his chops.
4 Viking bellyslaps out of 5