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After wading through the violent streets of Copenhagen with the Pusher trilogy, director Nicholas Winding Refn hands in a more meditative piece of work that also just happens to be incredibly violent.

Set somewhere around 1096AD, Mads Mikkelsen plays a one-eyed slave forced by a group of Pagans to fight for money across the Scottish Highlands. Seen as nothing more than an object by his captors, One-Eye (as he will later be dubbed) is an incendiary device waiting to go off. Finally finding an opportunity to unleash his furry, One-Eye murders his captors and escapes, only to be followed by the youngest member of the Pagans (Maarten Stevenson).

The boy and One-Eye develop a bond that isn’t close to being in the same stable as ‘father and son’, but it holds a smidgen of co-dependence. When the duo stumble across a group of Christians looking for a rumble with anyone who isn’t Christian, they’re invited to join the mob on their crusade to the Holy Lands. However, when things go awry, both the boy and One-Eye are seen as a curse sent to stop the Christians in their righteous mission.

Bereft of speech for the most part, Valhalla Rising feels surprisingly simple in its structure and visuals when stacked against the likes of Refn’s later work such as Drive or The Neon Demon. However, whilst its plot is as rigid as cobwebs, the film still manages to keep its audience at arm’s length for most of its runtime.

One-Eye is seen to be prone to visions and whilst the Christians’ course change halfway through the film – they end up in what appears to somewhere in America – could simply be an act of God, there’s also the suggestion it could also have been the act of a god. One-Eye could be, for all intents and purposes, an Old Norse Pied Piper leading the sinful and corrupt to their doom. For all their pomp and circumstance, the Christians are hardly the most pious of people. They bicker, they fight, and they rape each other just to gain the upper hand. Perhaps they deserve the punishment that they’re dealt by One-Eye.

On the other hand, One-Eye could just as easily be someone looking to escape their plight, leading him to passively follow those around him until he once again feels the need to escape. As the film moves forward, Refn suggests that One-Eye only has one real option in front of him and when it arrives, it’s both brutal and swift. Mikkelsen dominates the film with his stoic presence. Even when he’s befalling a group of soldiers in one go, his heart rate never seems to rise above a warm-up. It’s no wonder he was chosen to play Dr Hannibal Lecter later in his career.

Looping back to the visuals, Refn captures a beautiful melancholy in the Scottish landscapes that underlines the loneliness and lack of belonging that befalls all the film’s characters. Equally, these postcard moments help emphasise the shocking violence that raises its ugly head every now and then. The audience may be surprised to find themselves admiring a gorgeous backdrop before screaming, ‘he just disembowelled someone with his bare hands! WHY?! Why would he do that?’

Bleak, beautiful and liable to irritate some with its lethargic pace, Valhalla Rising highlights Refn’s desire to experiment with storytelling and setting. It’s a stunning piece of work and makes you wonder what he would have done with Agatha Christie’s Marple had ITV let him off his leash.

Valhalla Rising was chosen to be reviewed by one of my lovely Patreons. Thank you for your selection! If  you’d like to learn more about my Patreon and choose a film for me to review, click the link here.

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Released in 1990, Prayer of the Rollerboys is a strange beast. A starring vehicle for Corey Haim, it’s a mishmash of tone and contains regular reminders that its director, Rick King, and screenwriter, W. Peter Iliff would go on to work on the screenplay for Point Break.

Set in the what-is-now-not-so-distant future, America has been on its knees for so long, it’s down to its bones. The country’s economy has collapsed and it’s effectively become one big war zone. Filled with poverty, crime and political infighting, the country has left itself open for others to come in and make a tidy profit. Case in point, Japan now owns the ten top US universities and has moved them brick by brick to their own borders. Into this political unrest comes the Rollerboys, a youth movement built to support troubled teens caught in the crossfire of day to day life. Led by the extremely mulleted Gary Lee (Christopher Collet, Sleepaway Camp), the Rollerboys is in fact a white supremacy group (Gasp!) that feeds off the paranoia and displacement of those it takes in.

They also like to rollerblade in unison.

Like, all the time.

If you didn’t think you could goosestep in skates, then allow Prayer of the Rollerboys to change your minds.

Our guide in this turbulent time is Griffin, played by the late Corey Ham (The Lost Boys) in one of the few films he made without his contractually obligated partner, Corey Feldman. Looking ten years younger than he’s supposed to be, Griffin is a badass rollerblading pizza delivery boy who has to look after his younger brother, Miltie (Devin Clark), and keep him away from falling under the spell of the Rollerboys.

PLOT TWIST: Turns out Griffin and Gary know each other from way back in the day, and when the former saves a Rollerboy from a crack house fire, he’s invited to join up and spread racial discrimination in the funkiest way possible. Surprisingly, a lifetime membership to the Extreme Sports wing of the Hitler Youth doesn’t appeal to Griffin and he spurs Gary’s advances. When Miltie ends up dealing drugs for them however, Griffin joins up with the police to go undercover, save his brother and take down the Rollerboys.

If it hasn’t been remarked upon enough, Griffin, Gary and all the Rollerboys ride around on skates all the time. In fact, for reasons that are never explained, all the ‘yoof’ get about on rollerblades. Even when Patricia Arquette turns up as an undercover cop, she’s bounding around on wheels. It’s established there are cars, no one seems to be bereft of petrol, roller-skates can neither outrun nor deflect bullets, so why is it a thing? Once you start thinking about, it prays upon you at night.

It’s such a surreal thing to include in the film that it’s extremely hard to take anything that happens seriously. I can’t help but feel that someone saw 2015’s Turbo Kid, despite clearly being a parody, decided they could make a much grittier version, travelled back in time and did so. That might sound like a convoluted way to make film, but I ask you, dear reader, how else you do you explain the rollerblades. How?!

Not that removing the offending foot furniture would instantly up the quality of the film. Prayer of the Rollerboys is the kind of film where you feel every minute of its run time. And it’s only a little over 90 minutes! Like Juno, it has a hipness to it that feels designed by committee.

Despite its insistence that the Rollerboys are the baddies, it’s troubling that the majority of people of colour in the film are there to portray the violent, thuggish B-19s, a rival group that the Rollerboys want to wipe out. Admittedly, being a white supremacist group, they’re unlikely to take on board anyone who doesn’t look like Corey Haim, but that doesn’t refute the acknowledgement that this is an incredibly white film where white people join forces to save the day. In summary, it’s all a bit icky.

Finally, I’d like to acknowledge the glacial romance between Haim and Arquette that is more comical than it is sexy. There’s no denying that Haim had his fans back in the day, but in the cold light of post-90s, but he looks extremely out of depth here and remarkably uncomfortable in his ‘love scene’ with Arquette. You know who was never uncomfortable? Feldman! Just check out the horrendous Busted and how he throws himself into every sex scene in that. The man was insatiable.

But I digress…

A parody of itself before the end credits even roll, Prayer of the Rollerboys is perhaps more interesting in this current climate for its portrayal how a small group of people with conservative leanings can quickly gain control by promising to help the disaffected and poor. Replace the rollerblades for tiki torches and the comparisons become even clearer.

Prayer of the Rollerboys was chosen to be reviewed by one of my lovely Patreons. Thank you for your selection! If you’d like to you’d like to learn more about my Patreon, click the link here.

My name is John Noonan and I’m the creator of Ms Holmes novellas, a series of stories about Manchester’s greatest consulting detective. Yep, it’s a pastiche of Sherlock Holmes, and I have lots of lovely reviews about it from people on Amazon.

I also write for the likes of Horrornews.netFilmInk and The Reel Word. I also write a bunch of stuff on my blog! A lot of this done for exposure rather than financial support, but it certainly floats my boat.

I love doing all of this and am currently writing my third, much longer, story, Ms Holmes: Baskerville. I think you can see where that one’s going. Anyway, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing regardless of the monetary worth. However, if you feel like throwing a dollar my way then good on ya.

If you’d like to get involved and get me to review something you may have not seen elsewhere, check out the link at https://www.patreon.com/noonanj.

(Text taken directly from my Patreon site.)