DVD Review: Norwegian Ninja

Hi all…

First, let me say that I usually love parody and films that are over the top. When I saw Dead Snow last year, I was overjoyed. Nazis and zombies in the snow seemed a perfect fit, and Norweigian director Tommy Wirkola treated that combination with the humor it so richly deserved.

So when I saw a press release for Norwegian Ninja from the producers of Dead Snow, I hoped it might have the same energy and humor of the Nazi zombie movie. I was very wrong. And I won’t say that it was a bad film, because it wasn’t. It just wasn’t at all what I expected.

Norwegian Ninja promotional shot, showing Jon ...
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In 1984, Arne Treholt – a high-ranking Norwegian diplomat – was tried and convicted as a spy for the Soviet Union. This much appears to be true. Norwegian Ninja takes this premise and explores a bizarre “What if?” scenario that shows Treholt as a hero, not a traitor. And in this bizarre alternate universe he was the leader of a secret group of ninjas working for Norway’s King Olav. And to top it all off, there’s a secret CIA-led group running around the world performing terrorist acts and blaming them on the Soviets to encourage the eventual destruction of the USSR.

Though I found certain scenes funny, I’m honestly not sure how much of the film is meant to be amusing. Some parts hit me in the vein of the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me while others hit me like the old action movies of the 1970s like Death Wish with Charles Bronson. The use of ninja abilities (like appearing and disappearing in a cloud of smoke), feng shui (as a magical shield to keep unwanted visitors from their island) and enlightenment (shown by an absurd inner light glowing from the person’s head) were mixed with eastern philosophy, explosives, and a bizarre ideological battle between hidden para-military operations…

As icing on this strange cake, the whole film is tinted to make it look like it was made in the 1970s or 1980s, with the early washed out colors in every scene. There were multiple scenes that used obvious models (for the ninja island and their mountain hideaway), which might have been meant in homage to those 1970s action films but I just found them obvious and a bit jarring.

I can’t say I really enjoyed the film as a whole all that much, but I did enjoy certain scenes. The use of kite-suits as two ninja apprentices battled while climbing majestic mountains to gain the right to the title of “ninja” was amazing. Other than the scenes from Transformers: Dark of the Moon where squadrons of soldiers glided out of the sky, I’d not seen these suits used anywhere. But it was fun to see the final scenes in Norwegian Ninja as well as the raw footage in the extras to get a sense of the speed they were traveling at and how close they were to rugged mountain cliffs.

Included along with the film on the DVD are many special features. The three deleted scenes were definitely unnecessary and a bit verbose in spots, so I could see why they were cut. The bonus scenes include quite a bit of extra footage that didn’t make it into the film, including the kite-suits and footage of the explosions done. I actually preferred the clean footage to the tinted footage used in the film for most of these. Also included are six featurettes, featuring interviews with actor Mads Ousal (who plays Arne Treholt in the film), writer-director Thomas Capplen Malling, and producer Eric Vogel.

I anticipate that Norwegian Ninjas will become a cult classic to some people, especially if those folks like bizarre alternate histories. Perhaps if the writer-director Thomas Cappelen Malling had added a bit more obvious humor it would have stuck, but this film didn’t do anything for me. Maybe next time.

Instead, I recommend you take another look at Dead Snow. 🙂

This article first appeared on BlogCritics.org here.

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Book Review: Voices Under Berlin by T.H.E. Hill

Hey all…

For me, historical fiction all too often falls into one of two camps. It’s either so detailed that you get lost in the details and don’t get much in the way of story. Or it focuses almost entirely on story and doesn’t provide enough detail to set the stage. Voices Under Berlin is like the Baby Bear’s bowl of porridge in the Three Bears. It provides just the right amount of details to enhance the already gripping story.

Voices Under Berlin is a novel about the Berlin Spy Tunnel started by the American military and intelligence forces in the American Sector of Berlin after World War II. Work on the tunnel began in February 1954 and American forces operated it until April 1956 when it was finally discovered by the Russians.

The Berlin Spy Tunnel was a joint operation between the American CIA and the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). They dug a tunnel below the border between the Western sector of Berlin and the Soviet sector to tap into Russian communications between the Soviet spy masters in Berlin and their leaders in Moscow.

The story, amid the history, is about Kevin and a small number of soldiers who constructed the tunnel, administered the wiretaps, and translated the calls made by their Russian counterparts.

Though Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) has been around for as long as there have been signals to intercept, it’s amazing to see the type, depth, and breadth of information gathered and used during the two years the tunnel was operational. The soldiers involved were privy to private phone calls between Berlin and Moscow, which provided details about operations by the Russian intelligence agents in Berlin as well as amazing insight into Russian politics as viewed by those Russian agents in Berlin.

The transcripts included to provide the Russian side of the equation not only were a major part of the story (it’s what the men were there to do), but it was part of the give and take of the times. We learned to like some of these Soviet spies that the guys were listening to. It was a glimpse into the human side of intelligence gathering that’s tough to get across. I thought Hill handled it masterfully.

Hill also managed to bring the human element into the novel, allowing us to watch relationships develop among the men and some of the local women in Berlin, some of whom were spying on them. Each of the main characters – Kevin, Fast Eddie, Sheerluck, and others – gave us glimpses into a segregated Berlin after World War II. There were many difficulties and challenges of living in a city separated into the American, British, Russian, and French sectors.

And amid the day to day drudgery and danger of working as spies in post-war Berlin, Hill also brought a great deal of humor seamlessly into the story. It’s the humor of military life and the quirks of people forced to work together under pressure. These pranksters and tricksters born of boredom and spite came up with some great ways to even the score between enlisted men and officers.

What’s even more interesting to me is that Berlin was segregated from the end of World War II until 1990 when the Berlin Wall came down. Nearly 40 years of a city and country divided in one way or another.

If you’re a fan of historical fiction, spy novels, or just looking for a great story – Voices Under Berlin has a little bit for everyone. It’s a quick, enjoyable, and educational read.

Be sure to check it out!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick it up at Amazon:

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