Background: Aside from the numerous Frankie and Annette movies from my youth, I've enjoyed scores of surfing movies over the past decades such as Big Wednesday and Point Break that have all touched on some of the universal themes of life, love, and laughter as men set out to prove something via a connection with the waves. I never had the kind of time to waste on learning how to surf myself and not coming from the shores of California or Hawaii prevented me from answering the call of the waves personally but there is still a mystique about man and nature that surfing seems to hold that I understand why Hollywood has long held a love affair of its own with the topic. Well, today's review of Monster Thursday (Monstertorsdag) looks at a small indie film from Norway that combines similar themes with a surfing story, providing an almost stoic set of characters in a familiar story worth checking out.
Movie: Monster Thursday is set on Norway's west coast, not far from some prime surfing spots, albeit very cold prime surfing spots. The movie begins with a hapless loser named Even stumbling around in a bar, trying to use a set of rings to play a game of pinball. He then goes to what turns out to be a wedding ceremony of his friend Tord, claiming to have forgotten the rings at home. Tord improvises a solution and the viewer then finds out that the beautiful, and quite pregnant Karen at the alter, was originally Even's wife but he let Tord "steal her away" as discussed in Even's speech as best man. By this point in time, you know how screwed up the trio are since allowing an ex-husband to be the best man is pretty far fetched, especially one prone to passive aggressive behavior that seeks to interrupt the flow of those around him with stronger wills.
Soon after the wedding though, Tord is called away on business to Singapore where he combines his successful career and love of surfing for months on end, occasionally sending messages to his wife that his return has been delayed. He has it all; a hot wife, good looks, a great job, and the kind of skill at surfing that comes to very few men, all the opposite for Even who can't swim, is aimless without steady employment, and lacks in just about all departments from the looks of it. To add insult to injury, Tord is so secure with Even's ineptitude that he charges him to look after his wife; trusting that nothing will happen between them. Karen left Even because he lacked the fortitude to finish anything he started and so our tale begins.
Against all odds, Even sees the separation as his big chance to steal Karen back but knows that he has to become something better then he is in order to accomplish the task. Some guys would concentrate their efforts on work; others on fixing up their physical appearance, and still others would seek to become better people in order to do this but Even gets it in his head to learn to surf after Karen scoffs at him one day. Through a quirky series of misadventures with his robust alcoholic best friend, the two stumble through some early obstacles before hooking up with a retired legendary surfer who lives a secluded life along the shoreline. Like a Jedi master training a young padawan, the older, grizzled man seeks redemption in teaching Even about more than just surfing as the common theme of lost love resurfaces more than once (he actually has more in common with Tord as a man who had it all but the threads had a sense of commonality to them that was admittedly a bit obvious). Even proves to be a horrible surfer with absolutely no natural talent yet he continually strives to best the waves and regain Karen's love, much like viewers have seen elsewhere with some twists that added some spark to the proceeding.
Okay, the metaphor of the waves representing Karen and Even conquering his own inadequacies by finally mastering something in his life were boilerplate drama as seen hundreds of times before. Still, the way the little elements were handled breathed some new life into the timeworn plot with the side plots (of friend Bergstrom shooting for the scientist Sara, mentor Skip discussing losing his love to the waves, and the stoner-posers that hang out by the coast among others). I'll admit that a lot of what took place, the rationale behind some of the choices by the characters coming to mind, struck me as cultural gaps that I'll never understand, yet they provided something different then a by-the-numbers story as the suits tend to provide in the USA. By the dramatic high point near the end of the movie, where all the characters could have taken completely different paths; the wheels set in motion gave them all a momentum that sealed their respective fates, including Even doing the right thing and proving that he had overcome his fears to regain his humanity. I watched it with a friend that hates to "read movies" (subtitles bother her as they take away from her ability to watch what's going on) and even she liked it more than usual. For me, the layers of the film; from the solid acting, to the stunning visuals, to the way director Arild Ostin Ommundsen wove the story he co-wrote together in a believable fashion made this one worthy of being Recommended.
Picture: Monster Thursday was presented in the same 2.35:1 ratio non-anamorphic widescreen color it was shot in on 35mm by director Arild Ostin Ommundsen for inevitable release in the Film Movement series on DVD. I'd rather the movie not be letterboxed in favor of an anamorphic presentation but whatever the reasoning for this move, getting the movie released was the important part. There was little grain, less video noise, and few technical goofs to interfere with the enjoyment of the movie itself. The composition of the shots tended to capture a lot of the starkness of the area, the power of the mighty waves, and the characters in their elements very nicely; keeping this oft-nominated film from ever looking truly low budget. The visuals were often so striking in fact that you could turn down the sound and enjoy most of the scenes on a wholly visual level, though by doing so you'll miss out on the romantic portions of the story as Karen learns to see Even in a new light by the end of the film.
Sound: The audio was presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital Norwegian with optional English subtitles. The vocals were crisp and clear, the music fitting for the specific scenes, and while the separation of the channels wasn't anything special, the dynamic range was decent. A movie like Monster Thursday is largely broken up into two parts; the extensive dialogue and the surfing sequences, each of which was handled competently though it didn't give my home theatre a workout by any means. The emphasis, as previously noted, was on the visual elements and while the auditory experience wasn't bad, it didn't appear to be a focal point for director Arild Ostin Ommundsen.
Extras: As with the rest of the series, the best extra was a short film added in to provide a voice for material that would otherwise be consigned to film festivals (some day, I suspect that Film Movement with release a monthly title comprised solely of such films, at least if they're smart). The short film for this volume in the series was Youngster about an urban youth who took the lessons of capitalism to heart by selling crack to junkies on the unforgiving streets where a single mistake can prove fatal. It was only 8 minutes long and dealt with a situation where a junky had problems paying for a rock he just received from the vicious 12 year old. Director Will Canon's look at the drug problem was certainly different, although you'll have to draw your own conclusions as to the message of the short film itself. There were some biographies and a true double sided DVD cover where director Arild Ostin Ommundsen spoke about the themes of the movie, providing some insight on what he was seeking to offer with it.
Final Thoughts: Monster Thursday was an entertaining selection as the July volume of the Film Movement series, labeled Year 4, Film 7 for those keeping track. It had vision, depth, and replayability that transcended the quirky ending, leading me to hope that the director finds more work to present in the future based on his success here. Unlike some films in the series, Monster Thursday was less of an art film and more of a movie that many could enjoy, despite whatever cultural quirks it may have shown. As such, I think it should be Recommended as a love story, a surfing flick, and an interesting character study of people.