August 17, 2009
Review - " Films set in Alaska " - By Roland Hansen
In honor of my recent trip here is a brief review off the movies that I have seen that are set in Alaska. As usual I present them
here in alphabetical order.
30 Days of Night
Josh Hartnett stars as Eben Oleson, Barrow, Alaska’s
hard-working and dedicated sheriff. While most of Barrow’s
citizens take off right before the sun disappears from their
town for 30 days, Eben stays put – ready to take care of the
remaining townsfolk no matter what the emergency. But even
Sheriff Oleson can’t protect the people of Barrow from a pack
of vampires who figure out a town pitched into darkness by 30
days without the sun is the perfect feeding ground.
There’s a notable absence of leather coats and sexy teasing
of victims in 30 Days of Night, a gleefully gory vampire pic with
real bite directed by David Slade (Hard Candy) and based on
the graphic novel by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith. The
vampires of 30 Days are nearly robotic feeding machines and
absolutely nothing like the cool vamps of Buffy, Angel and the
like. If it’s blood, guts and brutal killings you’re looking for, then
30 Days of Night fits the bill.
The night feeders in 30 Days of Night are ugly, monstrous creatures who care nothing about those of us running around with
beating hearts, other than how quickly they can kill us. These vampires are a far cry from the romanticized versions which
populate TV shows. Their kills aren’t clean and neat and they aren’t accompanied by witty quips. This is a vampire story for
those ready for a whole lot of gore, and for those able to accept without analyzing the rest of the plot. Puzzling over how the
humans survive without heat or electricity in the freezing cold - or how they get by when they never seem to eat – is
pointless. Ignore the gaping plot holes. It’s just a vampire movie, albeit one that’s a fresh, gruesomely fun take on the
The story opens with a billionaire named Charles Morse flying
to a remote cabin nestled between snow crusted mountains.
Morse is played with his usual charm by Anthony Hopkins in
the only interesting performance in the film. Charles's hobby
is knowing everything about everything, especially about
wilderness survival. He knows the tricks people have used
throughout history to survive, and this knowledge soon proves
Accompanying him is his beautiful wife, Mickey, played by Elle
Macpherson. Mickey is a fashion model who is there to shoot
a photo spread in the woods. She is accompanied by her
photographer, Robert "Bob" Green (Alec Baldwin) and
Robert's aide Stephen (Harold Perrineau Jr.), whose only
purpose in the film is to be the expendable one. Baldwin plays his role rather laconically instead of imbuing his character with
the mystery called for.
On a flight to find an Indian to put in the picture with Mickey, a plane with just the men aboard crashes. The three men then
set off on their quest to be rescued beginning with a lecture from Charles on what happens to most lost people. "They die of
shame," he explains. "Because they didn't do the one thing that would save their lives -- thinking." Well, Charles does their
thinking for them, including creating a compass from the raw materials at hand.
This picture grabbed my attention because Anthony Hopkins starred in it. I have been a fan of Hopkins since I saw his
incredible performance in the 1978 film "Magic" (nobody plays evil crazy like Hopkins). He is usually very particular when
selecting scripts and this did not seem like his kind of picture; however, he was perfect for the lead character. While this is
not an original picture, this is a fascinating film worth your time. If you are a fan of Hopkins, you should see this picture.
Al Pacino plays the cop as a graying, threadbare detective
with still-sharp instincts who has been given an extra bag of
metaphorical bricks to carry around: He's in Alaska helping
with this murder case until the heat of an ugly Internal Affairs
inquiry dies down in his native Los Angeles.
It takes him little time to lay a trap for the killer, a pulp mystery
novelist, played with eerie, meticulous reserve by Robin
Williams, who both mentored and obsessed over his pretty
young victim. But the fact that Pacino can't get a wink of sleep
begins to degenerate his sleuthing abilities and Williams
knows it. When the trap is blown, a chase ensues through the
mountain fog, resulting in a lethal case of mistaken identity
that the cop decides to cover up to save himself more Internal
Affairs woes. But the killer witnessed the accident and uses
blackmail to turn the table on his adversary.
"A good cop can't sleep because a piece of the puzzle is missing," Detective Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank) tells Pacino. "A bad
cop can't sleep because his conscience is bothering him."
"Insomnia" is in many ways a conventional, sometimes contrived, and even predictable Hollywood remake. Pluses for good
performances by Pacino and Williams combined with the magnificent nature of Canada (Alaska in the film). Insomnia is not a
bad movie, but I found it quite boring. No aspect of this film was done poorly; however, there is nothing in the film that held
my interest. The storyline seemed a little cheesy, and the characters are unappealing.
Into the Wild
After graduating from Emory University, top student and
athlete Christopher McCandless abandoned his
possessions, gave his entire $24,000 savings account to
charity and hitchhiked to Alaska to live in the wilderness.
Along the way, Christopher encounters a series of
characters who shape his life.
Emile Hirsh was undoubtedly the star and gave an oscar
worthy performance as Chris McCandless. The supporting
actors are all brilliant, especially Hal Holbrook as Mr. Franz
(Holbrook won the Delta Choice Award for this performance)
and Kristen Stewart as the young, horny, hippy singer
Tracy. Chris' partings with Hal Holbrook and Tracy are the
most heart-wrenching. Chris rejects a flourishing romantic
relationship for his freedom. This makes his realization that
he needs to share it even sadder. Kristen's performance has
garnered much (deserved) critical praise. She also played guitar, sang on the soundtrack and actually composed one of
the songs, plus she looked absolutely fabulous lying on the bed in her underwear.
The entire movie was amazing - the acting and scenery was excellent and the plot was thought provoking. More people
should watch this to appreciate the message to us all. It is one of the best movies I've seen that portrays the contrast
between a materialistic world vs the natural world. This is a film that can easily be overlooked but not forgotten. Into the
Wild has a very special quality to it. It is a culmination of things, from the beautiful imagery, the fantastic script, the
amazing cast, the often mesmerizing quotations and of course the feeling of adventure and of true freedom. It is a unique
vision into the life of a young man searching for himself in a dangerous environment who comes to realize that the true
meaning of happiness may not be what he first thought. I highly recommend this film. It is one that will stay with you for a
long long time.
In the remote Alaskan town of Mystery, hockey is the most
revered activity around. With the weekly pond matches that
take place every Saturday being nearly ritualistic in nature,
the recent big news is that Mayor Scott Pitcher (Colm Meaney)
and his council have decided that Captain John Biebe (Russel
Crowe), the town sheriff, is getting a bit long in the tooth to
continue playing. Thus, they decide to replace him with a
young and upcoming player, Stevie Weeks (Ryan Northcott),
who happens to be dating Marla Burns (Rachel Wilson), the
daughter of the town's judge and former local hockey coach,
Walter Burns (Burt Reynolds).
All of that is eclipsed, however, when a story by former
resident Charlie Danner (HANK AZARIA) appears in Sports
Illustrated exclaiming how the local guys could easily compete
against any NHL team. Suddenly the small town is thrust into
the limelight. As such, Charlie, an associate TV producer,
returns to Mystery hoping to persuade everyone that a match
between the locals and the New York Rangers would be a great publicity stunt.
This being a sports underdog movie, the overall outcome is more or less predictable. Director Jay Roach (both of the Austin
Powers movies) has assembled a fine cast. Reynolds, for example, is fast becoming a great character actor after years of
floundering in lead roles after his glory years. Crowe shows some of the qualities that would elevate him in movies such as
"The Insider" and "Gladiator," but here he's not quite as luminous as he would become in those breakout roles.
The success of "Mystery, Alaska" lies in creating a mood, and that is done rather well. Take away the unbelievable scenario
and the sports-film cliches and you'd have a mighty good movie. Those obstacles, alas, are too difficult to overcome and this
becomes just a pretty good movie.
North (everyone favorite Hobbit, Elijah Wood) is a versatile
11 year old who can do a lot of things: top the class in terms
of grades, out-pitch and out-hit everyone else in the baseball
team, and act like a veteran in school plays, but he can't do
one thing: getting the attention of his parents. Despite his
scholastic, athletic, and thespian achievements, his parents
just ignore him. So, he does the unthinkable. He gets himself
an attorney. He gets a legal separation from his parents. He
then travels the world, searching for the perfect parents. In
doing so, he inadvertently causes a mini-revolution that puts
kids in the driver's seat, as parents scramble to remain the
parents of record. One potential family are eskimo's living in
an igloo in Alaska. Thdere is a delightful turn with Abe Vigoda
as the eskimo grandpa being left on an ice flow because he
gets too old. As his family walks away he quips "Don't forget
to call me if there's a change of policy"
There are some very funny moments throughout this film, which boasts a stellar cast. Jason Alexander and Julia Louis-
Dreyfus are well paired as North's self-absorbed parents. Jon Lovitz plays the role of North's sleazy attorney. Bruce Willis is
the sage that mysteriously appears in every vignette in which North is trying out new parents for size. Probably the funniest
potential new parents are those played by Reba McEntire and Dan Ackroyd. Moreover, one of the bonuses of having Reba
McEntire in the film is that she sings in it and is simply terrific, as is the rest of the cast. This is definitely a funny little film that
turned out to be a pleasant surprise.
In "The Proposal", Bullock plays a tough-as-nails boss who
learns she's about to be deported back to Canada. Her
solution is to make her assistant (Ryan Reynolds) marry her
if he wants to keep his job, and convince the government their
relationship is the real deal. Truth be told, Andrew can't stand
his boss, but if he's ever going to have a shot at a better
position, he'll have to play ball. In typical sitcom fashion, the
fake vows are exchanged and the zany antics ensue. Faster
than you can say; "Fish out of water", Andrew drags Margaret
to his home town so that he might convince his family that they
really are in love, thereby convincing authorities that Margaret
isn't trying to pull a fast one.
You can guess what happens from there. There's nothing
particularly original about The Proposal. This formulaic routine
has been done to death in countless romantic comedies. The
thing is, for films of this nature to work, there has to be goodcomic timing and chemistry between the leads.
For the most part, Bullock and Reynolds make a fairly entertaining on screen couple. This despite the fact that Bullock is
twelve years Reynolds' senior. They're daring, too, all in the name of laughs. Bullock actually plays against type here.
Usually, she's the cute girl next door type. Here, she's the bitch next door type. Meanwhile, Reynolds takes the subtle route
making you all but forget he's the same guy who played Van Wilder
The Proposal is what it is. It's silly and labored, but it does have moments of undeniable charm and it also has the lovely
Betty White. This wily veteran pretty much lights up the screen every time she's in the frame. Whatever the case may be,
When this movie was all over, I knew the best way to describe its overall vibe. The Proposal is, in a word, "enjoyable."
The Simpsons Movie
After Lake Springfield's pollution kills a noted rock band,
Grandpa makes a religious prophecy, predicting doom for the
city. Sensibly writing this off as senile dementia, Homer and
Bart enjoy the remainder of their Sunday with a game of dares.
Challenged to skateboard nude across town, young Bart ends
up arrested, and seeking fatherly guidance and consolation.
Homer, easily distracted as always, is more interested in
fawning over a pet pig he's adopted.
As the ruthless EPA director Russ Cargill (Albert Brooks)
hermetically seals Springfield under a glass dome, the
Simpsons escape and head for the Last Frontier. Homer
moves his family to the great frozen north where they pay you to live there! Comfortably settled in Alaska, Homer is
contented to hang out at Eski-Moe's, but his family separates over the effort to urge him to return to save the town.
This film is ultimately a spin-off, frequently addressing the problem of changing from television, like a teasing "To be
continued..." in the middle, and a probably deserved taunting of the audience for being dumb enough to pay for what they
could get for free at home.
Turning a TV show into a movie is risky work in the best of circumstances. Transforming the densest, most daring TV show
ever made was even more of a risk. Happily, The Simpsons Movie is everything that was advertised.
Dog hater Ted Brooks (Cuba Gooding Jr.) runs a well-heeled
Miami dental practice. When his natural mother dies, Ted
discovers he was adopted, and is heir to her Alaskan fortune.
He leaves dog-day Miami for sub-zero Tolketna, only to learn
his inheritance is a wood cabin, seven Siberian huskies and a
border collie. His first instinct is to sell up to grizzly wilderness
man and respected dogsled competitor Thunder Jack (James
Coburn). But at the last minute he doglegs and trains the dogs
himself for the Arctic Challenge. Along the way he befriends
barmaid Barb (Joanna Bacalso) and comes to terms with his
It's hard not to like the perpetually vivacious Cuba Gooding Jr.
Even when he's in sub-zero movies - and hey, his career has
headed south ever since he snared the Oscar for Jerry
Maguire - he brings such an infectious energy to his roles
that you can't help but smile. And Snow Dogs is a pretty sub-zero family film built entirely, it seems, to entertain six to 15 year-
olds – or anyone entertained by dogs in sunglasses. And hey, the world needs more movies starring dogs in sunglasses.
Although this fish-out-of-water comedy does indeed go to the dogs, it has plenty of fun getting there. Artic blizzards, thin ice,
crazy critters, life and death rescues and good ol' doggy humour provide plenty of slapstick hijinks, and Gooding has a
wonderful time getting hurt for our enjoyment. Still, with great support from grumpy old James Coburn, Nichelle Nichols
(Uhura from the orginal Star Trek) as Gooding's mum, and Michael Bolten (I'll let you see who he plays...) - not to mention
the effervescent Gooding - Snow Dogs is bit a of a hoot.
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