Sunday, February 26, 2017

Land of Mine

This Danish historical drama is nominated for best Foreign film at this year's Academy Awards.

During World War 2, thousands of land mines were  buried along the Western beaches of Denmark by the Germans, anticipating an allied assault that never happened. After the war ended, the Danish army forced German prisoners, many of them teenagers, to remove the mines. This film is a fictionalized account of one group of prisoners. 

The Danes had a bitter hatred for the Germans after the war, and they are represented here by Sergeant Rassmussen. He is charged with commanding a group of 14 young prisoners to clear a particular beach. 

The Sergeant is played by Roland Moller and he is simply fantastic, slowly discovering an empathy he didn't think existed, for his prisoners . The young German actors who play the prisoners are also excellent with their various personalities winning over both the Sergeant and the audience. 

While the story never veers far from the beach, it remains incredibly tense as one mistake can set off a mine. There are explosions but, for the most part, not when you expect them.  It becomes a highly emotional story and one filled with moments of great humanity.

Written and directed by Martin Sandvliet, with wonderful cinematography by Camilla Hjelm Knudsen, this is a terrific film that should not be missed. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Salesman

 The new film from acclaimed Iranian director Asghar Farhadi ( "A Separation") is once again a domestic drama that starts out simple enough but turns far more complex after an violent incident occurs.

Emad ( Shahab Hosseini) and his wife Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) are starring in a local theater production of "Death of a Salesman". When nearby construction causes a fracture in their apartment complex, they are forced to temporarily relocate to an apartment offered by their friend, Babak.  Unknown to them at first, the apartment had most recently been rented by a prostitute and this leads to a major turning point in the film.

Mr. Hosseini and Ms. Alidoosti are both excellent, portraying a couple who's life together becomes deeply tested. Mr. Farhadi's direction is actor focused and his screenplay, while not as intense as "A Separation", ups the suspense and tension as the film moves towards it's heartbreaking conclusion.

The film is nominated this year for Best Foreign film among a crowded field but based on the strength of it's acting, it certainly has a good chance to win.

Saturday, February 04, 2017


     The new French film from director Paul Verhoeven is a master class of acting from star, Isabelle Huppert. It is a dramatic thriller that veers off into a twisted plot point that I'm sure appealed to Mr. Verhoeven, known for his controversial films.

Ms. Huppert stars as Michele, a divorced, business woman who runs a video game company with her partner, Anna (played by Anne Consigny). At the start of the film, Michelle is raped in her home by a masked assailant and from there, as they say, the plot thickens. 

As ghosts of the past collide with the rape and other sub plots,  Michele's world becomes more complicated and Ms. Huppert conveys an amazing range of emotion even as she finds a new coping mechanism to keep her life in control. It is a brave performance from a wonderful actress. Brave, not only for the realistic rape sequence but also for the fact Michele is not really a likable protagonist and yet, you can't help but root for her. All the characters seem stereo-typically French, carrying on flirtations and affairs as the order of the day. Sex itself, is represented by multiple definitions within the film. Love, power, guilt, boredom, desire and need all have their role to play.

The film leaves you feeling just a little bit dirty and in need of a shower to wash off the nasty bits. There are a number of surprising revelations and an important plot point that is definitely controversial and should lead to many a post screening discussion.

The Comedian

Robert DeNiro stars as Jackie Burke, an aging insult comic looking to stay relevant and move past his old beloved T.V. character "Eddie". Everywhere he goes, the fans still want to see Eddie and the younger crowds don't find his brand of humor appealing. Mr. DeNiro grows comfortably into the role as the film goes on, turning Jackie into a fully formed character that you can root for, even when his act becomes painful to watch. 

With a very well known supporting cast of characters including Danny DeVito as his brother, Patti Lupone as his sister-in-law, Edie Falco as his agent, Leslie Mann as a new woman in his life, and Harvey Keitel as Ms. Mann's father, you would expect comedic sparks to fly but I found the film to be a sad drama with a few good laughs. The jazz soundtrack underscores the sadness in Jackie's life and there are so many scenes that are literally hard to watch that you wonder what director Taylor Hackford and a quartet of writers really had in mind for the direction of the film.  As painful as some scenes are, they play a crucial part in the film, which ultimately has something to say about today's society.

Ms. Mann shares most of the screen time with Mr. DeNiro and the chemistry that develops between them is believable despite the age difference.  Her character, aptly named Harmony, brings out the best in the cynical, angry Jackie. There are also many "blink and you miss them" cameos from a majority of stand up comics and comedic actors including Billy Crystal, Charles Grodin and Cloris Leachman (in an unforgettably painful scene, that proves she's a good sport). 

Watching Mr. DeNiro in his scenes with Harvey Keitel will make you long for a screening of "Mean Streets", the film that put them both on the map and two hours better spent.