Monday, September 19, 2011

Movie Web Monday: Peter Stormare

Movie Web Monday: Each week, I'll look at a specific actor's roles across three good movies. The third movie will in turn tie into the first movie of the next week's actor, whose third movie will continue the pattern. I will go through actors and movies at this rate, with the following limitations in mind: every movie(or television show) invoked will be one I either own, or wish to own; no movie or actor will be invoked twice. So sit back and enjoy as you fall into the nerdery's movie web. (Oh, and I'll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, telling you just enough to know if you'll enjoy the movie)

Peter Stormare: That Not-Russian Guy

Peter Stormare is one of the more recognizable character actors out of Europe. A Swede by birth, Stormare is known for playing different ethnicities other than his own Scandinavian heritage. He's got a long list of films, including some big blockbusters by Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg--see below. And, thanks to an accounting error in your favor, this week's Movie Web installment will have four entries. Enjoy.

Movie: Jurassic Park: The Lost World (Own it) Light Spoilers

Last week I used Peter Postlethwaite as an atypical antagonist for a Michael Crichton story. This week, Peter Stormare features as a completely typical Crichton antagonist--he bites it hard in a stupid, cruel, and senseless way. This time playing the incredibly German-named Dieter Stark, Stormare is mostly a background fixture in this movie, even more so than the others in today's list. This dino-poacher gets a memorable introduction scene, in which he examines a chicken-sized thunder lizard. The hunters' zoologist explains that the little scavenger hasn't had enough contact with humans to be scared, to which Dieter produces a small cattle prod and tazes the upstart dinosaur, remarking:

It's a goofy little scene that is just plain wrong, and since Crichton's books tend to be anal about the details, I'll blame this on the movie makers: for the most part, animals don't learn to fear man; they learn not to fear man. For instance, coyote attacks are much more worrisome in suburban areas, where the animals become inured to man's presence enough that they learn to attack us large mammals rather than flee in ignorant fear. Rural coyotes, on the other hand, are known to give people a wide berth as they uncertainly probe the larger predator's behavior. Country rats compared to city rats are another good example, as the boldness of the latter is well-known. This makes the whole shtick of Dieter's introduction and his wretched demise sort of a poorly thought-out, zoologically atypical excuse to inflict a painfully drawn-out potty-break-cum-death that doesn't work on a rational level. Stormare, however, sells the agony and the panic of the character's final moments quite well.

And this, by the way, echoes the death of the lawyer in the first Jurassic Park movie. You have a guy off-handedly apathetic towards a small animal's place in the food chain who then dies in the middle of a bathroom break. Gorram lizards, they don't give you a moment's peace.

Movie: Armageddon (Own it)

Armageddon was such a popular film in its time, I doubt Peter Stormare role in this film needs to be introduced. He's Lev Andropov, eccentric cosmonaut and Wookie stand-in for the asteroid teams. As Lev, he gets a couple of the best lines in the rock-beats-planet-but-roughnecks-beat-rock film, and Stormare knows how to deliver the saltily stereotypical Russian lines with just enough cheese to make them work. And it usually serves as a perfect highlight for some of the absurd action set-pieces. For instance, just after the Russian orbital Citgo blows up and the rock-nukers escape, Lev give his ace commentary:

Bunch of cowboys, indeed. Stormare is able to take this funny, one-dimensional character and make him a consistent but reflective element throughout the film. Lev joins in the protagonists' heroics, and as he does so he adopts their level of dramatic gravity while still getting to make a few wry "mother Russia" type jokes. This film probably cemented Stormare's status as funny Eastern European guy, which says a lot about the confident handling he gave this dauntingly shallow role.

Movie: Minority Report (Own it) Light Spoilers

So I shouldn't have done Minority Report this week. I'd planned the movie progression out a long time ago, and it was supposed to be Nacho Libre next (see below), but for whatever reason I thought Minority Report fell into this slot. This was doubly painful for me, as I was reacquainted that Stormare--playing chop-shop surgeon Solomon Eddie--dominates a brief section of the film that is so unwatchably gross that it constantly makes me remember cringing through my first and only viewing of Osmosis Jones. Eddie's impromptu surgery setup is gross, and the profusion of snot in this scene probably exceeds the cumulative total of Spielberg's other works. They lampshade this factor, of course, but it feels forced into the film, with little in the way of transition from the shiny skyscrapers to the slum of this moment. To add to the scene's confusion, the imminent eye-swap is drawn into strict tension that evokes a few Marathon Man notes as Eddie reveals that he's met Tom Cruise's John Anderton before:

Stormare plays up the sadistic pleasure of the scene well, and it's clear that Eddie is really getting off on this moment of power over the cop that put him into prison. Tom Cruise also does a good job playing the doped-up fear of realizing that he might get mutilated as the anesthesia kicks in. But the tension boils away to nothing, as Eddie doesn't do anything too bad to Anderton, and leads me to wonder why the scene wasn't edited down to the bare bones rather than fixating on gross, pointless tension that feels cheap after the payoff is abruptly abandoned. The only explanation I can give is that Stormare's portrayal of Eddie is too good, too condensed and rich already to further edit.

Darn you, Peter. Your quality acting means that this slick sci-fi chase film must always be punctuated by snot dripping out of a grown man's nose and Tom Cruise chugging rancid milk.

Movie: Nacho Libre (Own it)

Most of the movies featured in the Movie Web are ones which I whole-heartedly endorse. One of my favorite past-times is evangelizing unknown or under-appreciated nerd gems, and that forms much of the impetus for the series. That said, Nacho Libre is probably one of the more specialized films on the Movie Web. It's a weird Jack Black film that both homages and parodies certain bizarre elements of Mexican culture in a third grade sort of way that is difficult for some to accept. I love it, but it's not the sort of film I would blanket promote, either. It's easier to appreciate if you enjoy Jack Black's comedy, or if you miss Chris Farley's humor. Indeed, certain strains throughout Nacho Libre are very similar to that of Almost Heroes, as it's a culturally distinct story about a couple of losers banging their heads against a solid object in an effort to feel special...and get rich, too. It also helps if you know a thing or two about luchador culture (a stylized form of Mexican wrestling which makes the WWF* look restrained) or don't mind light ribbing of Latin Catholicism (as opposed to, say, Irish Catholicism).

In this quirky, funny, live-action cartoon of a film, Peter Stormare is just a random piece of crazy potpourri that marks the mid-point of the movie. A "water gypsy"--whatever that is--named Emperor, Stormare gets two lines in the film, but he delivers them with such a drunken, unstable panache that he makes a much larger impression than several other supporting characters in the flick. It boils down to Emperor giving Nacho the most bizarre recipe for wrestling success you'd see outside of an anime:

Like so many of Nacho Libre's moments, much of the humor is enhanced by the pervasively outrageous characters filling this real-ish world. They act serious in the moment, not really giving any big laugh lines at this juncture, but yet this is a strange hobo in a rowboat telling a guy in a home-made wrestling outfit that horking an eagle egg's yolk will make him a magically empowered fighter. The seriousness is what makes it funny, if you enjoy it at all, and Stormare's throaty, bleary delivery of his advice really helps to nail down these elements for me.

*Yes, WWF is the old wrestling organization, from Hulk Hogan's original era. I stick by my archaic identification, as I have no clue what the modern American wrestling abbreviation is.

Movie Web Monday will continue next week with a new actor, picking up with some other prolific player from the last movie listed above.

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