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The whole movie is stuck in an unmoving dream state. It's hard to follow the kid's narrative because it's all so surreal. Daryl Hannah is fascinating but WTF is she? It lacks tension because it's obviously something unreal. The evacuation crew is a little easier to invest in and the God discussion is oddly fascinating. I've certainly heard that story before which makes the awkward telling rather memorable. I wouldn't recommend this for the casual movie goer. It's a little weird.
These story ambiguities convey mysteries that will ever remain so. And the deepest "mysteries", ever residing behind a veil we can never fully tap into, can only be explained by "Allegory".
In this sense, Northfork is akin to a biblical story. Floods, change, redemption, death, light, dark, gray......and man's quest to understand the mysteries of this short but profound life through such allegories.
There is no "linear" time here. This "story" is all allegory, and lends itself to wherever one wants to be "taken". It is a dream scape more than a narrative.
"To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there's the rub/For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, /When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, /Must give us pause. - Shakespeare..
The cast is quite remarkable: James Woods, Nick Nolte, Daryl Hannah, Peter Coyote. Woods plays Walter, the leader of a group organized by the state to evacuate the people who stubbornly refuse to leave. BY hook or by crook they have to evacuate them. Nolte is the unlikely, but surprising, local priest who opposes the dam. And Hannah arrives with a family of weird, supernatural beings who befriends Irwin (Duel Farnes) a child who may or may not be an angel.
The technical aspects are quite good, especially M. David Mullen's cinematography. He can turn a desert landscape into a place full of wonder and mystery, or the interior of a house into a sinister place.
Northfork is not a simple movie to watch; it can be exasperating at times, sometimes it looks like it goes nowhere. But the patient ones will discover an obscure gem of American cinema.
Although the film is not for everyone, I'm sure (Joe Six-Pack run for the hills), if you have patience, take the time to watch this and let it work its way into your mind. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.
the story has great potential, but is poorly told. i found the timing very troublesome and a few more hours with a storyboard could have helped immensely.
i found a lot of the kind of obtuse allusion that can result in overkill; especially the dog.
some very successful imagery, though. i found the scenes towards the beginning of the film concentrating on the excavated graves very moving. all in all, a film with a lot of potential that is poorly realized.
Well it sounded interesting enough on the back of the DVD box so I rented it.
A more bizarre film populated with the weirdest characters I haven't seen.
And the pace - it was just so turgidly slow. If it was supposed to be languid it wasn't, it was terminal. An hour and 20 minutes I watched in silence as more and more strange, and frankly inexplicable things happened in front of me.
To be honest after that point I just got bored....it was just so slow.
The washed out colour, the strange soundtrack with it's languid and slow orchestral pieces mixed with radio jazz from the 40s.
And the characters...I keep coming back to these strange characters...the "Cup of Tea" character living in a house with a very near sighted...well I didn't know what to make of him, some sort of robot perhaps...with interchangeable hands...and strange guy with a suitcase and a lady with a wig.
It was all so...well bizarre...I couldn't make heads or tails of it...and normally I'm the kind of guy who enjoys mystery and unusual characters.
The DVD also said "A cross between Twin Peaks and Six Feet Under" - well if you couldn't get to grips with Twin Peaks then avoid this film.
In one sequence, the boy runs from a swing to a house after seeing some strange creature on stilts...the creature reminded me of one seen in Jim Henson's "The Dark Crystal" I honestly couldn't take any more after and hour and 20 minutes...perhaps I should have tried to stick it until the end but an hour and twenty minutes seemed like an eternity and I gave up.
Two stars - might have been 3 if cinematography had been better, desolate landscape notwithstanding.
To suggest that anyone should see this movie would be just as foolish as to say, anyone has to see any specific movie. It is also completely unfair to consider this movie utter crap. (I submit to you to watch a movie by Albert Pyun and then have another look at Northfork).
It is certainly not an easy sell. The layers, or threads, of the various stories are not fully tide up, but it appears that was never the intention. The film, like the old daguerotype pictures shown at the beginning of the movie, represents the lost and maybe even forgotten spirit of the American Frontier. A rather ambivalent story of course, given the fact that it coincided with the genocide of an entire people. And yet, this spirit of the frontier is something that lies at the very core of the American Dream, this mythical belief, that to this day seems to drive those former colonies forward.
But I'm getting sidetracked.
Yes, aside from the wonderful visual craft, the beautiful score, the acting, which I felt to be very in tune, this film contains elements from movies made by filmmakers that were mentioned by other users in their reviews. (see Cocteau, Godard, Burton, Lynch etc.). But my guess is, and whoever reads this, it's really just a guess, Michael and Mark Polish weren't interested in copying any one of those marvelous directors, but saw that beneath what developed into the USA, lay stories of people who were now forgotten, who were swept away by the tides of time and progress. There was a clash of values and (in the case of Northfork) literally power. Where there was a farming community there is now a neon-highlighted shopping mall, and where there were people there are now only ghosts of ideals past.
Which turns this motion picture into a smashing fairytale, a wonderful ghost story in the best sense of the word. An array of images and moods, and maybe even more substance that one might think. But then, that is another matter, and is truly to be judged individually.
The film is difficult for the uninitiated or the impatient film-goerthe most interesting epilogue (one of the finest I can recall) can be heard as a voice over towards the end of the credits. The directors seem to leave the finest moments to those who can stay with film to the end. If you have the patience you will savor the layers of the filmif you gulp or swallow what the Polish bothers dish out, you will miss out on its many flavors.
What is the film all about? At the most obvious layer, a town is being vacated to make way for a dam and hydroelectric-project. Even cemeteries are being dug up so that the mortal remains of the dead can be moved to higher burial grounds. Real estate promoters are hawking the lakeside properties to 6 people who can evict the townsfolk. Of the 6, only one seems to have a conscience and therefore is able to order chicken broth soup, while others cannot get anything served to them.
At the next layer, you have Christianity and its interaction on the townsfolk. Most are devout Christians, but in many lurk the instinct to survive at the expense of true Christian principles, exemplified in the priest. Many want to adopt children without accepting the responsibilities associated with such actions.
At the next layer, you have the world of angels interacting with near angelic humans and with each other. You realize that the world of the unknown angel who keeps a comic book on Hercules and dreams of a mother, finds one in an androgynous angel called "Flower Hercules." While the filmmaker does give clues that Flower is an extension of the young angel's delirious imagination, subsequent actions of Flower belie this option. You are indeed in the world of angels--not gods but the pure in spiritand therefore not in the world of the living. The softer focus of the camera is in evidence in these shots.
At another layer the toy plane of Irwin becomes a real plane carrying him and his angels to heaven 1000 miles away from Norfolk.
The final layer is the social commentary"The country is divided into two types of people. Fords people and Chevy people." Is there a difference? They think they are different but both are consumerist.
To the religious, the film says "Pray and you shall receive" (words of Fr Harlan, quoted by Angel Flower Hercules). To the consumerist, the film says "its what we do with our wings that separate us" (each of the 6 evictors also have wings-one duck/goose feather tucked into their hat bands but their actions are different often far from angelic as suggested by the different reactions to a scratch on a car).
The film is certainly not the finest American film but it is definitely a notable path-breaking work--superb visuals, striking performances (especially Nick Nolte), and a loaded script offering several levels of entertainment for mature audiences.
The imagery is certainly derived from Dali and Bunuel and the characters have a Lynchian appeal. The angels are straight Wenders, sort of, and "What you talking about Willis?" reminds me the advice in Pierrot to "Put a tiger in your tank," though referring to Diff'rent Strokes seems an ironic (and none to subtle jab) in the audience's side and not the satiric barb Godard meant by quoting an Exxon commercial.
The story involves G-men sent straight from American International Pictures lot of the 1940s to a Montana wasteland to evacuate stragglers in the soon-to-be submerged town of Northfork. It's intercut with the possible fever-dreams of a terminally ill child that play host to a series of adventures involving despondent angels. The plot is elliptical and symbolic and full of esoteric turns of phrase. It's pretentious and reminds me of a movie I wrote during my freshman year of college influenced, as I was, by European existentialism and Beckett. It's not a terrible thing and is, in fact, refreshing in a way, but it is an obvious attempt at artistry that wears its influences like badges. With some more time and maturity, the Polish brothers, who wrote and directed this film, will create something of startling originality I am sure.
Anyway, but back to my first point: I loved this film the first time I watched it, as it is gorgeous to look at (nice staging and wonderful cinematography), and I was reminded of some of my favorite movies. However, the second time around, I found it annoying. Here was this gorgeous looking movie fraught with some real emotion (the abandoned, dying child) and brimming with sublime performances (neither Nolte nor Woods have had parts this great in years), and the Polish brothers had to go and mar it all with their irony and quirkiness. It reminded me, in a way, of a Lynch film infused with the whimsy and winking of a Wes Anderson film. It left a bad taste in my mouth, in other words.
Does this review sound overly negative? It shouldn't; there is a lot to admire about this film and a lot to despise. It's not a masterpiece but it shows some talent and points to the fact that these Polish boys might make something of themselves one day. It is pretentious and confusing (in the worst way possibly--its confounding nature apparently lacks a point), but it is immensely enchanting. The lyrical beauty of the cinematography and the languid style of storytelling lull you into a hypnotized state from which you don't arise until the film's end. That's quite an accomplishment. Now, if only the Polishes could move beyond sophomoric attempts at humor (really, the Diff'rent Strokes reference is just silly and not particularly witty).
There is some unearthly quality in the film, some dignified mourning and sublime sadness when you suddenly realize the inevitable finality of everything - humans and their relationships, cities, countries, civilizations, the whole world as we know it. Death and birth have something in common - we go through them in the ultimate loneliness.
I cannot recall the film that affected me in the same way and as deeply as "Northfork" did, the film so beautiful and so tender, so quiet and so powerful, so heartbreaking and so moving. Even now, after several weeks since I saw it, tears come to my eyes when I only think of it.
After I saw it, I had to talk to somebody about it. I sent a PM to one of my friends and I asked, "Please tell me what I just saw?" And my friend replied with the words, "You just saw one of the greatest films of modern times. One of these days others will see the light."
The back & forth between the groups was engaging and kept my mind focused. the little clues/hints also kept me on edge. all of the actors played their roles really well. all were believable. all were giving to their roles. from the farmer that nailed himself to his front porch, to Irwin, to nolte the priest, i really respected the acting.
yet, the movie never came together? there were too many loose ends left lying on the floor. i appreciate a movie that keeps the audience thinking and probing, but isn't it the writer & directors role to give their audience some closure? were the polish brothers trying to do a 2001 on us? if so, even 2001 gave us much more closure at the end than this film.
i will look forward to their next film. they are on the right track. this was a movie we need more of. i am sick & tired of boobs & bombs and hyped up acting presented as a blockbuster.
northfork is a good effort and i agree with others, how was this movie left off the cinematography list of the year's best?
At a certain point, we most know who the people are...even if we never understand where they are going. The sheer pretentiousness wore me down every time I tried to grasp a truth in this film.
Call it beautiful, great and awesome...I just call it "cheating." All style and no substance. Sure, it's a matter of taste...but I would never take a confusing modernist pastiche of symbols and splashes over the spiritual clarity of Jean Cocteau or Renoir. But if it works for you, I'm all for it. Art is a personal thing, I guess.
I don't mind surreal, and I certainly don't mind having to pay attention to find subtlety or hidden meaning, but there should be some point to the whole thing. I didn't get the feeling that even the writer or director really had a broad vision of anything but were, instead, just so self-absorbed in their own pretentious visions that they became deliberately scattered. Or perhaps they just got confused themselves. Either way, I don't care. It bored the crap out of me for just over an hour with no saving grace.
Although a whole pack of other viewers have filled up this site with excited ravings about the alleged symbolism and masterful cinematography, I must respectfully disagree. Perhaps I didn't mince through enough film classes to appreciate some inspired techniques not visible to mere mortals ...
Or perhaps this movie was just crap.
I give it a "1" and file it next to "Ishtar."
"Being so sick of all of the FX and Formula stuff, I found this film to be genuine Cinema. All I can say is it touched me in so many ways, that I still am sorting it all out. North Fork is a wonderful film. One that brings the viewer's mind out of the gutter and into the heart. The spiritual aspect is so very intriguing to me. Pay attention, as you'll need to use the brain and heart God gave you to follow the story. I think it's possibly a bit over the heads of some, but I feel those are the individuals it speaks to most importantly. I want to view it several more times, just so I can take it all in!
The Industry needs to study this film to realize we do exist.
My thanks to all involved in the making of this film."
Occasionally my girlfriend tricks me into watching films that are so pretentious you just want to scream; this is one of them, although if I did snuggle up enough with gentle petting so she would let me hear her scream later on:>, which I like a whole lot more than films about angels, my second this month.'Northfolk' is one of those movies that is so deliberately over the top and annoying because it wants to shout out-look at me-look what we have done with this script!-we are real ac-tors!!!No you're not, your showing off; it really is like watching four Alan Rickman's at once; if you can possibly imagine that.
Set in 1950s Middle America, residents of the small town of Northolk have to evacuate their valley because a dam construction project will soon flood it. But some won't budge so the government has sent the men in black, headed by James Woods, to evict them, including the last of the dead who are being dug up from the old cemetery where a scary fire and brimstone priest in Nick Nolte is also holding out against the hydro electric company. You don't see the dam or any water but the tension and resentment is rising like the creeping unseen torrents that will soon envelope their lives and homes.
OK, so far so good, bit of intrigue, bit of tension, and bit of mystery. Then the Polish directing team of brothers, Mark and David, the hit the vodka and introduce some angles, seemingly straight from the scissor sisters judging by their attire. Enter Daryl Hannah as 'Flower Hercules' and four more cherubs with equally silly names. Their mission we are unsure off although the suggestion of the departed talking to people that are seemingly still alive then suggests all is not as it seems.
With four householders and their homes still holding out, one shaped like Noah's Ark, a likewise number of men-in-black, headed by agent Walter O'Brien, (Woods), are ready to evict as the slues gates begin to turn. The stragglers on the other hand are waiting for a sign from God to tell them when to leave as their families have been living in the valley since 1776.
The key to the yarn is a five year old kid (Dual Fernes), near to death, slipping in and out of conscious in Father Horton's crumbling church. The angels in question are here to see the little boy as he may be some sort of chosen won as he flits between life and death. This is also Kyle MacLachlan territory, he of Twin Peaks, fame, of which this film really reeks of; his casting as the reluctant hero who's the family man behind the rebellion. But what does this all mean as far as a film goes?
The Thinking on this…
It's a mess of a posturing movie and in truth makes no real sense. Has the valley already been flooded and these people are now dead or are the angels here to redeem them. There are plenty of clues for the later and I'm sure the bodies being dug up are a hint, but I was no the wiser at the end, all two hours of it.
It's clearly a pet project by the brothers Polish, who write, produce and edit here, and the clout of previous success like the spooky' Twin Falls Idaho' gave them too much free reign. It is beautifully filmed and superbly lit, with every frame a surreal masterpiece, but where's the constructive narrative and meaning to this guys? I really didn't get it and there are only so many surreal metaphors I can handle.
Its arty-farty stuff and will only really appeal to Bohemian types who can see 'inner meaning' and the spiritual message man. To me its looks like something that no one reigned in and trusted the direction to little effect. As the big fat prison guard in 'Cool Hand Luke' said to Paul Newman:" What we have here is a failure to communicate".
The extra bits on DVD.
The making off segment is equally pretentious as Nick Nolte-in his half moon glasses- tries to explain the 'deep meaning's' to the film and why he took this project and gave it everything he had. Bo**ocks, your too old for action flicks and they paid you cash up front here.
Trailers. Galleries. Film biographies.
I think that the film is flawed, simply because so many people here failed to get the message. Many will give up on it. That is too bad, because the message is really wonderful.
I am amazed at the number of reviews that simply report on the six men in black as government agents. Did no one see the wings on their lapels or the feathers in their hats? These guys are angels, charged with escorting (evacuating) souls to the next life. They are doing penance. Their reward is an acre and a half on the shores of the lake - a place in heaven. They return to escort the stubborn people who refuse to move on - the guy who nails his feet to the floor, the man and his wives who is waiting in his ark for a sign from God. Notice that they run into the minister in town, but never pay him a visit when he is with the boy. The minister is doing the same thing as the men in black - assisting with the transition. James Woods character makes a statement that their job is not to change anyone's beliefs, just to help with their evacuation.
This entire movie takes place in the world between life and death. Too bad it is so slow and depressing.
If you haven't seen the film, perhaps you should stop reading here.
The idea to set the film in Montana was a great coup for the Polish brothers. Never has the majestic views of the country and mountains been so vividly captured as in "Northfork". We don't need any color! The beauty is in the dark tones of the film that enhances the story of the desolation in this remote outpost.
At the center of the story is Irwin, the sick child under the care of the mysterious Father Harlan. This boy is seen in his bed where the kind priest is administering the medicine for his body. But is he really there at all? We watch him interacting with the odd group that we first encounter around the cemetery. There are two freshly open graves. Will one of them be for Irwin?
At the same time, another plot line plays parallel to this first theme. We see the six men in black that have come to the area in order to remove from the area as many people as they can. This will be the bed for the man made lake that will be created. Their reward is one acre and a half of lake front property if they move a certain amount of people.
The third story line centers on the mystical group composed by Flower Hercules, Cup of Tea, Cod and Happy. They are following a possibility of a link to an angel that has been injured in this area. When Irwin meets them at the cemetery, he offers to help, only if they take him away at least a thousand miles from here. We watch as the quartet examine the feathers the boy has placed among the pages of his bible. Could Irwin be that angel?
The closing sequence show us all parties leaving Northfork in different directions. The men in black riding their automobiles, perhaps going home to enjoy the newly acquired properties given to them as a reward. The mystical group is seen boarding a plane and taking off for a higher place. We also realize that the child in Father Harlan, in spite of the medicines and the care he received from the saintly figure, has died.
Michael Polish got one of the best ensemble acting from all the principals. Nick Nolte, as Father Harlan turns a low key performance in his portrayal of this kind man. James Woods, as Walter, one of the men working for the developer, does a fine job. The biggest surprise is Duel Farmer, who makes an excellent impression as Irwin. This child actor, with the right guidance, shows great promise.
The mystical group is brilliantly acted by Daryl Hannah, Robin Sachs, Ben Foster and Anthony Edwards, the man with the funny spectacles. Peter Coyote, Mark Polish, Ben Foster, and the rest of the cast are flawless under Mr. Polish direction.
The beauty of the film relies in its simplicity. Mr. Polish's vision will haunt one's memory. The images of Montana, as perhaps an unreal landscape is one of the best things in American films in quite a while.
What an ambitious film, which is equal in quality to the written word. I was surprised to learn how young the Polish brothers are and that they wrote the thing, which sounds like good Tim Findley. Ridiculouly good. And supposedly made for peanuts, ridiculous again. I have to fill in at least 10 lines here, what else to say. Sure its a bit strange, but give it a chance and it may provoke the imagination to savor a unique and enriching experience the way a painting can cause us to reflect each of us upon something unexpected, or the way a wonderful meal can make us feel better for reasons we don't fully understand. Creative, imaginative, visionary, (these are three different things, by the way) and full of unyielding guts. SEE IT NOW, AND SEE ANYTHING THESE GUYS HAVE DONE, FROM NOW ON. OKAY, THAT'S IT.