SEPTEMBER 2005 NEWS

9.30.05:

The 18-minute short, TORTE BLUMA, won the "Best of Festival Award" at the Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films. Director Benjamin Ross also received a cash prize of $2,000. Earlier this month the film won the "Best Drama Award" at the 9th Annual Los Angeles International Short Film Festival. Congratulations! Torte Bluma is a sobering film inspired by a real-life episode in the life of Franz Stangl (played by Stellan), the German commandant at the Treblinka Extermination Camp, and the Jewish prisoner who cooks his meals. Here's a review from Iofilm.co.uk:

Every now and then a short film comes along with such a fantastic story that you wish it was feature length. Torte Bluma is one of those films.  Putting a personal perspective on the horrors of war, this little gem looks terrific. The cinematography is equal to that of far more expensive undertakings and the look is matched by the content, the details of which I won't go far into for fear of spoiling the great number of surprises.

A middle-aged man is doing a spot of woodwork. He calls to his butler for tea and everything smacks of the genteel upper-middle-classes until he bites into a slice of cake and ants scurry out.

What happens next turns the film on its head and makes for something a very long way from Merchant Ivory. This fantastic drama is made all the more powerful and chilling by the fact that it is based on a true story. Want to see man's humanity - or lack of it - exposed? You should. If you dare.

button_box.gif (205 bytes)And here's the first review of Beowulf and Grendel by Peter Brunette from Screen Daily:

Beowulf And Grendel is a handsomely mounted retelling of the ancient Anglo-Saxon classic from the early Middle Ages, the period in which a nascent Christianity was attempting to establish itself among the warring pagan tribes of northern Europe. It appears that little expense was spared, and the cast boasts the likes of Stellan Skarsgård, Sarah Polley, and the dashing Gerard Butler as the hero.

Unfortunately, a bit less seems to have been spent on the film?s script, especially the dialogue, and this single-handedly turns what could have been a triumphant piece of epic film-making into a farce. This will all but doom the co-production in English-speaking territories, but this literary adaptation/action film may recoup some of its cost in countries where dubbing will keep the verbal exchanges from clanging and clashing more loudly than the swords.

The story will be familiar to those who benefited from an old-style education, but probably to few others. Beowulf is a hero from Geat (modern-day Sweden), who has come to aid the depressed Hrothgar (Skarsgård), king of the Danes and fend off the destructive troll Grendel (Sigurdsson).

Though Beowulf is unfamiliar with the back story, we know from a prologue (not in the original) that the reason Grendel is wreaking such havoc is that Hrothgar killed his father. The rest of the story details the efforts of Beowulf and his hearty band to rid Dane-land of this scourge. Not surprisingly, a love interest for Beowulf has also been fabricated in the fetching, if not-quite-believable person, of a witch named Selma (Polley).

The plot of this comparatively unknown classic could have been more efficiently developed by screenwriter Andrew Rai Berzins. But this is the least of the script's problems. The biggest difficulty is the language which, presumably in an effort to "update" the dialogue, never achieves a believable consistency.

At one moment, Hrothgar exclaims: "By the gods, it's good to see you!"; at another he complains like an American teen that "Nobody tells me anything!" Other dialogue includes "I tell you, this troll must be one tough prick!" and "Who does he think he is, some fucking troll Caesar."

It goes without saying that the power of the magical confrontation with pure evil which marks the original literary text is mostly jettisoned in favour of industrial strength sword-fighting.

There are a few other, less consequential, missteps, such as portraying the nearly completely flat Denmark as a land of huge mountains (the film was presumably shot in Iceland).

There are also flashes of potentially interesting themes - such as the priest who tries to sell Christ to the pagan warriors by claiming that the Lord will keep them safe in battle, and the inclusion of the Homeric-style, storytelling poet within the story to add a comic and potentially self-reflexive depth - that are never sufficiently developed.

Grendel himself, especially as played by Sigurdsson, is a wonderfully elemental force as he screams out in anger and frustration to the endless mountains. But while the mythic power of the film's ending almost redeems its many faults, it is not quite enough.

9.22.05:

button_box.gif (205 bytes)We have our first pictures of Stellan as Goya! Yesterday scenes were filmed of Natalie and Stellan in Madrid near the Prado Museum. Hearty thanks go to Sharon Smithline for the filming news and the link to these photos, courtesy of Natalieempire.com. I'm glad to see that Stellan still looks very much like himself and that Natalie has taken on the appearance of a lovely senorita.

button_box.gif (205 bytes)In a recent article in Sweden's Expressen, Johnny Depp described Stellan as "one of the best and nicest actors I've ever worked with. If all colleagues were like him it, going to work would always be a joy." My thanks to Robin Solsjö Höglund for the translation.

9.19.05:

Here's a photo of the BEOWULF AND GRENDEL cast (minus Stellan) taken during the press conference at the Toronto International Film Festival on Wednesday. From left to right, that's director Sturla Gunnarsson with cast members - Gerard Butler, Sarah Polley and Ingvar Sigurdsson.  I haven't come across any serious film reviews yet other than blogs written by who knows who, so I don't have anything positive or negative to pass on. Apparently none of the cast had seen the film yet so the premiere was the first time they had the chance to finally see their work. It was so disappointing that Stellan was unable to attend due to his filming in Madrid. The GOYA'S GHOSTS production has added more cast members - Scottish actor Scott Cleverdon and Spanish actors - Fernando Tielve, Víctor Israel, Enrique Martínez, Andrés Gertrudix, and Eusebio Lazaro.

9.13.05:

button_box.gif (205 bytes)A three-minute film festival preview on BEOWULF AND GRENDEL was shown on Canadian TV. You can download the clip at this link, courtesy of gerardbutler.net. The film premieres tomorrow night at the Toronto In'tl Film Festival and we'll get the first chance to see what audiences think of it. The tentative guest list includes director Sturla Gunnarsson with cast members Gerard Butler, Sarah Polley and Ingvar Sigurdsson. Though it will be opening in Canada in March 2006, there is still no US release date.

button_box.gif (205 bytes)According to Spanish newspapers, filming for GOYA'S GHOSTS will take place in the city of Segovia from September 28 thru October 1. I don't know whether those scenes will include Stellan or not. Two more cast members have been added - Spanish actors Simó Andreu and Ramón Langa.

button_box.gif (205 bytes)Here's a new photo sent in by Ingemar Perup, who happens to be the picture editor for a new Swedish book about Hans (Hasse) Alfredson and Tage Danielsson. The book, which will be released this month, contains several interesting pictures of Stellan from some of Alfredson's films, such as Jim & piraterna Blom, Falsk som vatten, Den Enfaldige mördaren and P & B. Click here for more information on this book. Many thanks to Ingemar for the photo and book news!

9.08.05:

Six more days before the premiere of BEOWULF AND GRENDEL! There's a great article called "At Play in the Fields of Odin: Shooting Beowulf" in the Fall issue of Montage, a quarterly magazine covering issues in the art and commerce of the international film and television industry. You can view the article in its PDF form or by visiting our B&G film page, which also includes an article from Playback magazine. Besides the Toronto and Atlantic Film Festivals, the film will also be screened at the Vancouver International Film Festival, which runs from September 29 to October 14. Their programming schedule has not been posted yet. And it will be the the closing night gala presentation at the Calgary International Film Festival on October 2. My thanks to gerardbutler.net for these updates.

"The weather becomes an actor - a good and strong actor that gives energy to a scene, even if it does make it harder to be subtle. I'm not pulling up the theatre deliberately, but my theatrical background kicks in when I have to work not to be upstaged by the wind and rain and nature. So I don't mumble in this one."    ...Stellan

button_box.gif (205 bytes)Stellan has again made the top ten list of the sexiest men in Sweden. Expressen published their list this week with Stellan in 7th place and first place going to 39-year-old actor/director Rafael Edholm. It appears that most of Stellan's competition were considerably younger than him, so he's still going strong at 54 years old! Thanks to Robin Solsjö Höglund for this news.

button_box.gif (205 bytes) There are more additions to the cast of GOYA'S GHOSTS - Spanish actresses Blanca Portillo and Mabel Rivera (who starred with Javier Bardem in The Sea Inside in the role of the sister-in-law) and Spanish actor Unax Ugalde. Filming began on Monday at a house in San Martin de la Vega in southeastern Madrid. Director Milos Forman has an outstanding team that includes Javier Aguirresarobe as Cinematographer, Ivonne Blake as Costume Designer, Ivana Primorac in charge of make-up and hair, and Patrizia Von Brandenstein as Production Designer (Oscar winner for another Forman production, Amadeus). During the fifteen weeks of filming, cameras will most likely move to Segovia and Salamanca, where some scenes are expected to be shot. Although the film deals with a famous painter, inside sources describe the film as "historical fiction" which makes some wonder if the characters interpreted by Bardem and Portman could be a creation of writers Forman and Carrière.

9.03.05:

button_box.gif (205 bytes)TORTE BLUMA, an 18-minute short starring Stellan will be screened on September 25 at the Palm Springs Festival of Short Films. The film, directed by Benjamin Ross, was shot last November in NYC. Stellan stars as Franz Stangl, the Commandant of the Treblinka exterminatin camp in 1942-43. Here are some stills from the film:

The synopsis reads: "Stangl enjoyed a most unusual relationship with a Jewish slave who cooked his meals. Teetering on the brink of insanity, their daily rituals were held together by a tenuous thread until the cargo train brought a surprising arrival." As far as I know, this is the first time Torte Bluma has been shown.

9.01.05:

In my 8/28 update, I mention a 1998 interview with Stellan where he talks about his apprehension when he maps out a new role. He's quoted as saying, "Of course, I have anxiety and get uncertain of myself and all crazy when I start a new project. Nervous as heeell." I wondered if after seven years it had become any easier as he approaches his latest project, Goya's Ghosts. He responded, "No, nothing gets easier. You just get more nervous the more experienced you get. Same anxiety and fear of failure... You also ask more of yourself." And thanks to Sharon Smithline, I was directed to the photo on the left, which is dated 8/23/05, and shows Stellan in Madrid out on the town with his co-stars, Javier Bardem and Natalie Portman. [Note the mohawk Natalie is now sporting] I assumed he was still in Madrid when I contacted him, but he was actually in LA for a couple days apparently in "tons of makeup" as Bootstrap Turner for POTC: Dead Man's Chest. He was returning to Matrid today as filming begins on Monday. I commented on how exciting I thought this role of Francisco Goya was and he agreed, "Yes, the role and the project are very exciting." Stellan is quite thrilled over the "great script, great producer [Saul Zaentz.] and fantastic director [Milos Forman]." Often times he rents a house and brings his whole family along for the shoot, but this time he says they won't all be going, but they will still come and visit him.

Stellan also referred to his co-star Javier Bardem as "the real thing" and it's no surprise since the Oscar-nominated Spanish star has had a distinguished acting career with noteworthy films, such as Before Night Falls and The Sea Inside [last year's best foreign film], both of which I have seen and greatly admire. Javier is sure to bring his charisma and passion to the role of  the cunning priest Lorenzo.