By Lynn Venhaus
For all its relentless fury and fire, “The Northman” has a remote iciness that hampers emotional investment in the Shakespearean heroes and villains.

That said, its vast medieval-era storytelling is stunning in its vivid and realistic presentation and sets in motion a bloody, savage revenge tale.

A terrified boy sees his father slaughtered, his mother kidnapped, and his tribe decimated. To escape from death, he runs for his life, and his future path is set by trauma – horrible violence and emotional pain.

The young prince repeats this phrase over and over, first as he escapes: “I will avenge you, Father! I will save you, Mother! I will kill you, Fjölnir!”

It’s a simple plot, really, but like his other two immersive historical films “The Witch” (2016) and “The Lighthouse” (2019), director Robert Eggers takes a long time getting to where he wants to go.

The ambitious and singular Eggers, known for his visionary aesthetic and meticulous historical details, has wrapped this gruesome adventure with dark Norse mythology and mystical elements.

Set in the 10th century Iron Age in Scandinavia, this brutal testosterone-fueled exercise  honors Nordic rituals and customs in a painstaking, sometimes surreal, way. Don’t expect inaccurate horned helmets or any out-of-sync aspect.

The Icelandic and Northern Ireland landscapes are a portrait of an emerging agrarian civilization whose marauding barbarians have their own laws and behaviors. Those seafaring Vikings were in their land-taking phase then.

Those familiar with Vikings’ television programs, and such grand-scale movies as “Gladiator,” “Braveheart” and even “Conan the Barbarian,” will understand the power struggles and the tribal need to conquer.

The Nordic characters are faithfully portrayed in the blood-and-guts action, with intense swordplay and more than a few beheadings. With such characters as Finnr the Nose-Stub and Hersveinn the Battle-Hard, you can imagine the chest-thumping and loud growls.

Women, naturally, are marginal characters, but in Eggers’ screenplay, co-written by Scandinavian author Sjon, Queen Gudrun (Nicole Kidman) is given a hefty character arc. Unfortunately, ethereal Anna Taylor-Joy as slave Olga of the Birch Forest needed more to do – but does display a fierceness.

Singer-actress Bjork shows up in one scene as a seeress, who reminds Amleth of his destiny.

Similarities to “Hamlet” are obvious. After all, he was the Prince of Denmark — whose father was killed by his uncle who married his mother. But was Shakespeare inspired by Amleth’s odyssey, not vice versa? Hmmm.

The strange, trippy quality is enhanced through Jarin Blaschke’s atmospheric cinematography, Craig Lathrop’s impeccable production design and a propulsive musical score from Robin Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough. Those drumbeats are ominous.

Blaschke, who has worked on all Eggers’ films and was Oscar-nominated for “The Lighthouse,” frames the starkness brilliantly, often working with candles and fire. So has Lathrop, whose primitive design was influenced by historical consultants, including archeologists and literary scholars.

The plot doesn’t offer much complexity, and although there is an interesting twist revealed about two-thirds of the way, most of the characters don’t have enough passion to engage. They can be admired for their mental and physical toughness but keep us at a distance.

The once lively little boy (well-played by an all-in Oscar Novak) has turned into a sour, dour and buff he-man who is so singularly focused he can’t fully enjoy the love of a good woman.

The likable Alexander Skarsgard is physically fit for the role, with his lanky physique, and has taken on blockbuster roles in “Kong vs. Godzilla” and “The Legend of Tarzan” before without making a mark. This fearless beast starts at 11 and has nowhere to go in ferocity.

However, Skarsgard has previously demonstrated he is best-suited for dramatic turns in independent films and prestige television – the suave guy with some simmering issues (Racist husband in “Passing,” jilted groom in “Melancholia”). He first gained notice as the Viking vampire Eric Northman on HBO’s “True Blood” (2008) and later won an Emmy as the menacing, abusive husband of Nicole Kidman in “Big Little Lies” (2017).

Interesting that he and Kidman team up again, only she plays his damsel-in-distress mother here. Kidman gives the film’s best performance.

In typical wacky Willem Dafoe fashion, “The Lighthouse” star is Heimr the Fool. Ethan Hawke is impactful in his brief role as King Aurvandil War-Raven.

Things tend to get weird if Eggers is in charge, and he likes to explore evil forces’ effect on ordinary lives, how it messes with fate. With a bigger budget and broader in scope, “The Northman” delivers as a spectacle but falls a little short of its lofty goals.

The gripping action scenes of the first chapter give way to repetitive combat in the final ones, and even though the big showdown is one primal scream, by then the narrative has lost steam.

“The Northman” is not for the faint of heart. It’s a difficult challenge to meld artistic vision with blunt-force action, and the rage is never harnessed. For all the modern talk about toxic masculinity, this is an early example, and therefore, hard to watch in 21st century times.

But as a period piece, its sheer weight is enormous, and deserves to be explored.

“The Northman” is a 2022 action, adventure, drama directed by Robert Eggers and stars Alexander Sarsgaard, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Willem Dafoe, Ethan Hawke, Bjork and Oscar Novak. It is rated R for strong bloody violence, some sexual content and nudity and runs 2 hours, 20 minutes. It opens in theaters April 22. Lynn’s Grade: B.

By Alex McPherson
A snarling, fever-dream rampage of vengeance, director Robert Eggers’ “The Northman” can’t match its stunning attention to detail with an emotionally satisfying narrative.

Set during the Dark Ages, Eggers’ third feature is based on the text that inspired William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” In the fictional kingdom of Hrafnsey, King Aurvandil (Ethan Hawke) returns home from a long voyage and ordains his son, Amleth (first played by Oscar Novak, then Alexander Skarsgârd), to become the tribe’s future ruler in an elaborate ritual featuring crawling on all fours, farting, levitating, and Aurvandil’s innards morphing into a magical family tree.

Soon after, tragedy strikes. Amleth’s cold-hearted uncle Fjölnir (a menacing yet layered Claes Bang) assassinates Aurvandil, wreaks havoc on the populace, and kidnaps Amleth’s mother, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman). Young Amleth escapes via boat by the skin of his teeth, vowing to get revenge, restore honor to his family, and fulfill his destiny.

Decades later, Amleth has become a ruthless killing machine, raiding nearby villages with a band of like-minded berserkers. After torching a barn full of townspeople, a feather-laden seeress (Björk) reminds Amleth to rejoin the path to slay Fjölnir. Amleth then disguises himself as a Slavic slave en route to Iceland, to the farm where his uncle eventually fled.

Along the way, he meets another slave, the alluring Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy), who presents a different path to take — if he has the will to recognize the power of love amid chaos.

Ultimately, “The Northman” shines less in terms of thematic depth or provocative characterization than it does in Eggers’ pure, balls-to-the-wall style. If nothing else, the film viscerally immerses us into a specific time and place, where heinous violence is an accepted way of life, and strict traditions dictate one’s future.

Indeed, Eggers throws viewers into an unfamiliar land of rugged vistas and simple-minded cruelty. Amleth’s mentality seems out of his control, forced upon him by what society expects, leaving little room for personal agency and boundless space for blood-letting. 

There’s definitely merit in how “The Northman” unapologetically depicts its Icelandic setting and Viking cultural customs, visualizing the characters’ psychedelic visions in blunt, matter-of-fact fashion that doesn’t seem sanitized or toned-down for general audiences. Like his previous features, “The Witch” and “The Lighthouse,” Eggers depicts the mystical as co-existing with the ordinary, feeding into the characters’ archaic attitudes.

Bizarre rituals underscore their sense of “honor,” but also the traditions they are unable to break away from. The cinematography and editing emphasizes a mystifying and off-kilter world of gods and spirits they’ve devoted themselves to. 

During several extended action sequences, enhanced by Vessel and Robin Carolan’s pulse–pounding score, “The Northman” opts for long-takes, which break that spell, illustrating the grueling nature of combat and encouraging us to judge Amleth as he becomes a beast before our eyes.

The spectacle is enthralling, for a while, as the utter intensity of Eggers’ filmmaking allows us to feel like we’re right in the muck along with him.

The initial adrenaline-fueled carnage becomes repetitive in the film’s latter half, though, where the previously expansive action is restricted to one primary location, and Amleth’s single-mindedness devolves further into grotesque, blackly comic delusion that’s even harder to care about. 

Sadly, despite its spectacular style, “The Northman” doesn’t do enough to peel back the layers of Amleth’s damaged psyche. It follows a fairly standard revenge narrative, even resembling a video game at some points as Amleth receives instructions to “go here, get this item, and kill the bad guys.”

Moments of quiet reflection are few and far between, as Amleth — often saddled with clunky dialogue — goes about his murderous ways. His transformation from an innocent young man into a hardened killing machine is abruptly glossed over, as are the moments between the slaughtering where he starts to question his actions. He essentially remains a broken husk for much of the runtime, unable/unwilling to be vulnerable or consider the risks his acts of violence entail for those he cares about.

Skarsgärd does what he can with the material, roaring with gusto, but Amleth’s arc checks off archetypal plot beats without actually saying anything new about the price of revenge. Similarly, the ever-talented Taylor-Joy is given a simplistic love interest role that mainly serves to check off bullet-points on the way to an inevitable conclusion. The standout performer is Kidman, who lends Queen Gudrún an unpredictably unhinged quality that keeps viewers on their toes.

When the last drop of blood is spilled, “The Northman” lacks the heart and soul necessary to ascend into legend, but there’s enough achingly well–crafted filmmaking on display to declare it an honorable effort.

“The Northman” is a 2022 period action-adventure directed by Robert Eggers and starring Alexander Skarsgard, Anna Taylor-Joy, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe. It is rated R for strong bloody violence, some sexual content and nudity and runs 2 hours, 20 minutes. It is playing in theaters April 22. Alex’s grade: B

By Alex McPherson

A lusciously stylish descent into nostalgic madness, director Edgar Wright’s new film, “Last Night in Soho,” can’t match its technical brilliance with satisfying storytelling.

The film follows Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), a naive soul obsessed with the 1960’s who leaves her rural village to study at the London School of Fashion. She’s haunted by ghostly apparitions, including her mother, a fashion designer who died when Eloise was seven.

Out of a desire to make it big and follow in her mother’s footsteps, Eloise arrives in the big city, unprepared for what she’ll find — social alienation. Her roommate, mean girl Jocasta (Synnove Karlsen), and others judge her for her supposedly antiquated interests, while pervy men casually harass her. To get away, Eloise rents a West London apartment maintained by a wryly funny landlady (the late Diana Rigg, giving a glorious performance in her final role). The room Eloise rents — bathed in flashing red and blue neon light — seems pleasant enough, if a bit creepy. 

One night in her slumber, Eloise is transported back to the 60’s to live in the shoes of Sandie (Anya Taylor Joy), an up-and-coming singer who wants to become the next Cilla Black. An embodiment of the sort of confident, ambitious woman that Eloise hopes to become one day — and a chanteuse able to sing a killer rendition of “Downtown” — Eloise quickly becomes infatuated with her. However, darker truths are revealed when Sandie gets involved with an alluring, slimy bugger named Jack (Matt Smith) who promises to make her a star. Sandie’s traumatic experiences start bleeding into Eloise’s present as increasingly morbid visions impact her waking life.

This storyline represents an interesting deviation from Wright’s male-driven comedy background. Unfortunately, “Last Night in Soho” feels jumbled, with a spellbinding first half that devolves into clichés by the conclusion. Still, the film is invigorating thanks to its deft craftsmanship and wholehearted performances from the entire cast, McKenzie and Taylor-Joy especially.

Indeed, Eloise is a sympathetic protagonist, a youthful fish-out-of-water struggling to fit in. McKenzie’s acting lends her an innocent vulnerability, making her rapid infatuation with Sandie somewhat believable, and her later descent into paranoia all the more disturbing. The last third requires McKenzie to be in constant panic mode, yet she keeps emotions grounded when the script proceeds in absurd directions.  

Eloise’s initial time-traveling visions are utterly fantastic — throwing her (and viewers) into a decadent world of glitz and glamour that blocks out the darkness lurking beneath the flashiness, featuring the pervasive pop culture references that Wright specializes in. With shimmy-worthy tunes blaring in the background, these sequences are a pure joy, most notably a hypnotic dance sequence involving Taylor-Joy and McKenzie being swapped back-and-forth mid twirl.

“Last Night in Soho” shines in these instances, where Eloise and Sandie are experiencing the euphoric bliss of realizing their dreams with sky-high hopes for the future. This idea of escaping into an idealistic version of the past is, in fact, a key theme in “Last Night in Soho.” Eloise gradually sees the cracks in the facade, observing how the sexism of the time continues to infest the London of today, rendering her deeply traumatized. 

Although Wright and co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns aren’t able to massage this concept into something truly impactful, Wright deploys nearly every cinematic tool at his disposal to catch viewers off-guard in the grim second half, in which the film shifts from a coming-of-age tale to a mystery to outright horror. Combining giallo-inflected, fever-dream lighting and camera movements with a soundscape mixing together classic tunes and foreboding ambiance with whispers of dialogue, “Last Night in Soho” depicts Eloise’s mental turmoil with immersive aplomb.

However, this jack-of-all-trades approach sacrifices the dramatic pull that could have elevated it to another level. Firstly, we don’t get to spend enough time with Sandie for her to feel like a fully developed character. Taylor-Joy brings a confident energy to her performance that’s always entertaining to watch, but Sandie is kept frustratingly distanced from viewers throughout. We only witness snippets from the highs and lows of Sandie’s burgeoning career, eschewing nuance to keep the story moving forward at an overly brisk pace. 

Additionally, when the horror arrives, “Last Night in Soho” has predictable jump scares and generic-looking baddies. It also lacks much of the clever self-awareness that helped make Wright’s other films so successful. Moments of dark comedy are certainly here — Terence Stamp chews scenery to a pulp as a sketchy creep who would fit in well among the “Greater Good” crowd — but “Last Night in Soho” takes itself quite seriously, even in its ludicrous finale, in which Sandie takes center-stage and Eloise’s arc is left frustratingly streamlined.

Along with a token Black character willing to risk his life for Eloise despite barely knowing her and an unnecessary slasher detour in the climax, the film becomes ever-more trippy, losing sight of the real societal issues that Wright and Wilson-Cairns obviously care so much about.

“Last Night in Soho” is easy to get lost in. When you peel back the curtain, though, it’s a cinematic ride built on a rickety foundation.

Thomasin McKenzie

“The Last Night in Soho” is a 2021 psychological mystery-thriller directed by Edgar Wright and starring Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Diana Rigg, Terence Stamp, Matt Smith. Its run time is 1 hour, 56 minutes, and it is rated R for bloody violence, sexual content, language, brief drug material and brief graphic nudity. It opened in theatres Oct. 29. Alex’s Grade: B.

The Critics Choice Association (CCA) announced the winners of the 26th annual Critics Choice Awards LIVE on The CW during an in-person/virtual hybrid ceremony hosted for the third time by acclaimed film, television, and stage star Taye Diggs on Sunday, March 4.  The full list of winners can be found below. 

“Nomadland” led the winners in the film categories, taking home four awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for Chloé Zhao, and Best Cinematography for Joshua James Richards.  Zhao is the first Chinese woman to win as either director or writer. 

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” followed closely behind, winning three categories including Best Actor for the late Chadwick Boseman, Best Costume Design, and Best Hair and Makeup.  Best Actress was awarded to Carey Mulligan for “Promising Young Woman,” which also earned a Best Original Screenplay win for Emerald Fennell.  Best Supporting Actor went to Daniel Kaluuya for “Judas and the Black Messiah,” and Best Supporting Actress to Maria Bakalova for “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.”   

In the series categories, “The Crown” took four categories, the most of the night, winning Best Drama Series, Best Actor in a Drama Series for Josh O’Connor, Best Actress in a Drama Series for Emma Corrin, and Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for Gillian Anderson.  In the comedy genre, “Ted Lasso” won all three categories for which it was nominated: Best Comedy Series, Best Actor in a Comedy Series for Jason Sudeikis, and Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for Hannah Waddingham.  “The Queen’s Gambit” took the prize for Best Limited Series, and its leading lady Anya Taylor-Joy won Best Actress in a Limited Series or Movie Made for Television. 

The race for “Best Comedy Special,” which was dominated entirely by Netflix nominees, resulted in a tie between “Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill” and “Michelle Buteau: Welcome to Buteaupia.” 

As was previously announced, John David Washington presented this year’s SeeHer Award to his “Malcolm & Marie” co-star, Zendaya.  The SeeHer Award recognizes a woman who embodies the values set forth by the SeeHer movement, to push boundaries, defy stereotypes and acknowledge the importance of authentic portrayals of women across the entertainment landscape. 

After leading the nominations, Netflix also won the most awards of any studio/network with a total of 14.  Amazon Studios and Searchlight Pictures each won four. 

Critics Choice Awards are bestowed annually to honor the finest in cinematic and television achievement.  Historically, they are the most accurate predictor of Academy Award nominations. 

The 26th annual Critics Choice Awards show was produced by Bob Bain Productions and Berlin Entertainment.  The CCA is represented by Dan Black of Greenberg Traurig. 

Follow the 26th annual Critics Choice Awards on Twitter and Instagram @CriticsChoice and on Facebook/CriticsChoiceAwards.  Join the conversation using #CriticsChoice and #CriticsChoiceAwards. 

FILM CATEGORIES 

BEST PICTURE 

Nomadland (Searchlight Pictures) 

BEST ACTOR 

Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix) 

BEST ACTRESS 

Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman (Focus Features) 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR 

Daniel Kaluuya – Judas and the Black Messiah (Warner Bros.) 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS 

Maria Bakalova – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (Amazon Studios) 

BEST YOUNG ACTOR/ACTRESS 

Alan Kim – Minari (A24) 

BEST ACTING ENSEMBLE 

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix) 

BEST DIRECTOR 

Chloé Zhao – Nomadland (Searchlight Pictures) 

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY 

Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman (Focus Features) 

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY 

Chloé Zhao – Nomadland (Searchlight Pictures) 

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY 

Joshua James Richards – Nomadland (Searchlight Pictures) 

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN 

Donald Graham Burt, Jan Pascale – Mank (Netflix) 

BEST EDITING – TIE  

Alan Baumgarten – The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix) 

Mikkel E. G. Nielsen – Sound of Metal (Amazon Studios) 

BEST COSTUME DESIGN 

Ann Roth – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix) 

BEST HAIR AND MAKEUP 

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix) 

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS 

Tenet (Warner Bros.) 

BEST COMEDY 

Palm Springs (Hulu and NEON) 

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM 

Minari (A24) 

BEST SONG  

Speak Now – One Night in Miami (Amazon Studios) 

BEST SCORE 

Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Jon Batiste – Soul (Disney) 

SERIES CATEGORIES 

BEST DRAMA SERIES 

The Crown (Netflix) 

BEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES 

Josh O’Connor – The Crown (Netflix) 

BEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES 

Emma Corrin – The Crown (Netflix) 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES 

Michael K. Williams – Lovecraft Country (HBO)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES 

Gillian Anderson – The Crown (Netflix) 

BEST COMEDY SERIES 

Ted Lasso (Apple TV+) 

BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES 

Jason Sudeikis – Ted Lasso (Apple TV+) 

BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES 

Catherine O’Hara – Schitt’s Creek (Pop) 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES  

Daniel Levy – Schitt’s Creek (Pop) 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES 

Hannah Waddingham – Ted Lasso (Apple TV+) 

BEST LIMITED SERIES 

The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix) 

BEST MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION 

Hamilton (Disney+) 

BEST ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION 

John Boyega – Small Axe (Amazon Studios) 

BEST ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION 

Anya Taylor-Joy – The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix) 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION 

Donald Sutherland – The Undoing (HBO) 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION   

Uzo Aduba – Mrs. America (FX) 

BEST TALK SHOW 

Late Night with Seth Meyers (NBC) 

BEST COMEDY SPECIAL – TIE  

Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill (Netflix) 

Michelle Buteau: Welcome to Buteaupia (Netflix) 

BEST SHORT FORM SERIES 

Better Call Saul: Ethics Training with Kim Wexler (AMC/Youtube) 

About the Critics Choice Association (CCA)  

The Critics Choice Association is the largest critics organization in the United States and Canada, representing more than 400 television, radio and online critics and entertainment reporters. It was established in 2019 with the formal merger of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association, recognizing the blurring of the distinctions between film, television, and streaming content. For more information, visit: www.CriticsChoice.com.