Valhalla Rising. This was an interesting Danish film set around 1000 AD as the great Mads Mikkelsen plays "One Eye," a violent Viking type forced to live in a cage and fight other men to the death while attached to a pole. Mikkelsen, wordless the entire film, is not someone I'd ever imagined in such a brutal role where he's destroying skulls with rocks or ripping out hunks of flesh while in battle, but he's terrific as usual. Do not mess with One Eye! The film also goes on a few tripped out, Werner Herzog-esque madness feeling scenes as One Eye gets entangled with a group of Christian crusaders. Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson), Valhalla Rising is beautiful throughout, no matter how barbaric or unhinged what we witness becomes. The film is full of atmospheric dread and as much 1000 AD dirt, doom and gloom than you may want. Valhalla Rising is hard to stop once it begins and while it has some flaws, the sudden, over the top violence combined with the gonzo visuals make it one of the year's more intriguing releases.
Room In Rome. I'm a long-time fan of Spanish (or Basque) director Julio Medem but his newest, Room In Rome, is a complete and utter disaster! It is going to be in the running for one of the worst of 2010 for me as it is a shallow, poorly written, horribly acted bit of Euro-sleaze and an awful release from Medem. To get a film from Medem with lots of sex in it is no surprise, after all, he directed such pulse-racers with flesh-a-plenty like Sex y Lucia and Lovers of the Arctic Circle (a film of his I really love). Room In Rome's story is so flimsy orchestrated it feels as if Medem thought to himself, "How can I get a couple of hot actresses in a hotel and convince them to take their clothes off for 93% of the movie?" However he pitched it, that's what occurs. The only thing going for this is the fact that Elen Anaya and Natsha Yarovenko are very attractive women. Anaya is the much better actor but who is going to remember that after watching this? It's hard to tell the difference between Room In Rome and the soft-core Euro films shown on late night cable in the 1970s and 1980s--same bad stories, same bad acting, plethora of nudity as two women spend a long night nakedly entwined in each other's arms in Rome.
Cell 211. Here's another film from Spain but I actually really liked Cell 211. It's a very gritty prison drama that offers up enough suspense, twists and turns to overcome some really poor decisions near the end of the film (I won't spoil it so don't worry). A newly hired prison guard is getting a tour of the facility when a riot breaks out. He finds himself alone behind the bars, mixed in with the inmates he does what he can to survive--pretends to be a criminal too. He comes under the wing of the prison leader, the vicious Malamadre (Luis Tosar) and events become more complicated as he gets more intwined with their riot while also trying to stay alive. As I said, some of the twists toward the end just didn't work for me and that's too bad as Cell 211 was really enjoyable up to that point. Still solid and very watchable, if you like films set in prisons--add Cell 211 to the list as a good one.