Indie Review: Danish Thriller The Hunt

This one and In A World (review upcoming) are the last two films I saw at MSPfest. I have been intrigued by The Hunt for a while because I’ve been hearing great things about it and Mads Mikkelsen’s performance. Well, he certainly did NOT disappoint.

The Hunt a.k.a. Jagten (2012)

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A teacher lives a lonely life, all the while struggling over his son’s custody. His life slowly gets better as he finds love and receives good news from his son, but his new luck is about to be brutally shattered by an innocent little lie.

I came to know Mads Mikkelsen through his role as a bleeding-eyed Bond villain Le Chiffre in Casino Royale but he’s not likely to be known only for that role in his distinguished career and that’s because he’s soooo much better than that.

He’s got an icy, almost ominous look to him but here he’s actually very convincing as a warm-hearted, meek Kindergarten teacher. The little kids adore Lucas in the small community he lives in, and though he’s been through a pretty tough divorce and missing his young son in a bitter custody battle, he doesn’t seem to let that affect his friendly demeanor.

The film opens with a bunch of his best mates jumping into a lake in a cool Autumn day. It’s a Danish film so it’s no surprise to see a big burly guy strip naked as he runs into a lake, which then Lucas has to rescue as he gets cramp as he hits the water. So Lucas is well-loved by his pals too, and it’s easy to see why. On the way to school, Lucas often walks past his best friend Theo’s house whose little girl happens to be one of his students. Everything seems sweet and cute as can be as they walk together to school, but soon it’s obvious that the cute blond girl becomes somewhat smitten with Lucas. It sounds quite normal at first, that is until something she said about him ends up escalating beyond anyone, least of all Lucas, would ever have imagined. There’s no such thing as an ‘innocent little lie’ and boy, this film truly shows us the really WORST case scenario of the townsfolk’s witch-hunt reaction.

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At first I was wondering why the title is called The Hunt (Jagten in Danish), but as I’m watching it, it’s most appropriate. Lucas becomes the victim of being deemed guilty in the court of public opinion, his friends shun him and the whole community practically shuts him out that he can’t even shop for groceries. It’s amazing how fast and seemingly easy people could turn on someone, even one of their own, as even Lucas’ new girlfriend doubts him. He virtually has no way of defending himself and given the grave nature of what he’s accused of, I guess I can’t blame people for being resentful of who they think is the perpetrator. Director Thomas Vinterberg doesn’t pull any punches in creating a tense, unsettling atmosphere with minimalist style. The quiet, almost serene look of his film enhances the feeling of terror, it’s as if I feel like I too was being hunted as I was fully immersed in Lucas and his plight.

The film is not violent nor gory, which goes to show that an adept director could effectively gives us the chills without ‘indulging’ in blood and gore. Mikkelsen is absolutely superb as Lucas in one of the Oscar-worthy performances I saw this year. His character is transformed by this unfortunate event and I kept thinking he’d do something drastic as a result, but thankfully the film is not so predictable. Mikkelsen has this quiet grace about him but with this simmering intensity underneath, you just don’t know what he’s capable of and he could truly explode at any moment. There’s a memorable scene on a Christmas eve that I won’t soon forget. Lucas looked back a few times at one of the men sitting a few pews behind him and the way he stares with his watery eyes sent chills down my spine. At that point he’s a desperate man with nothing else to lose and that sense of sorrow and restrained anger… basically a man at the end of his rope. Mikkelsen was able to capture all of that complex emotion in this one scene.

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The film’s supporting cast is quite good, especially Thomas Bo Larsen as Theo and Lasse Fogelstrøm in his debut film role as Lucas’ teenage son, but the star of the show is undoubtedly Mikkelsen. Props to Charlotte Bruus Christensen for her lush and evocative cinematography that is instrumental in creating the serene but eerie atmosphere. Vinterberg, Christensen and Mikkelsen have all deservedly won an award at Cannes for their respective work. It’s inevitable that Tinseltown would beckon the Danish auteur with his film’s success. I have no problem with that, just so long as he maintain his skillful film-making skills when he makes his Hollywood film.


4.5 out of 5 reels

Thoughts on The Hunt, if you have seen this one, I’d love to hear what you think! 

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April Movie Watching Recap and Movie of the Month

AprilRecap

Boy, four months of 2013 have come and gone. But as you can see from my banner photo, Winter is still not through with us yet. Yep, we actually still have snow/slush on May 1st :(

But enough with the weather. April was actually been a pretty good movie viewing month for me, thanks to Mspfest! Though I didn’t get to see all of the films I set out to see (thanks thundersnow!!) such as Mud, The East and Trance, I still got to see eight of them and most of them are excellent!

Now blogging-wise, it’s quite an exciting month as I was nominated for three LAMMYs!

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I was floored that I was in the running for the Big Kahuna, a.k.a. Best Blog, so THANK YOU to everyone who thought of me and my wee blog. I was thrilled to see the Small Roles, Big Performances was nominated as well, that award belongs to EVERYONE who participated! The most rewarding one for me is the Best Community Builder nomination, as to me, one of the greatest aspects of blogging is being part of a film community who shares my passion for movies. Thanks again everyone, this is the time where I’ll say, I’m so honored to be nominated! :D

Now, here are some of the posts you might’ve missed from this past month:

New-to-me Films Watched:

Disconnect

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Unfinished Song

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Oblivion

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Caesar Must Die

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I, Anna

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The Reluctant Fundamentalist

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Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

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The Secret of Kells

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The Angels’ Share

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The Hunt

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In A World

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Iron Man 3

Not a lot of re-watches this week, I only rewatched Gladiator and parts of Superman: The Movie as part of my Man of Steel countdown. I did see a few episodes of Doctor Who, I quite like David Tennant who’s undoubtedly the most popular Doctor. I enjoyed the show, it’s amusing but no I didn’t become obsessed with it like a lot of people do. I’m mainly waiting until the season finale with Timothy Dalton, ahah.

Well, overall I didn’t see as many films as I would’ve liked, in fact I only rented a single movie the entire month. But hey, I did get to see more independent films in the last three weeks than I usually do in months, so that’s always a great thing! I actually still have a few screener dvds of independent films I have yet to watch but hopefully will get to in the next few weeks.


Movie of the Month:

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I’ve done writing my review of this one, and after letting it sit for a couple of days, this is definitely the film I’m most impressed with in April and will surely end up in my Best list of the year. It’s not necessarily a ‘favorite’ movie that I’d love to see repeatedly, but it’s certainly one I’d highly recommend.


Well, that’s my monthly recap folks. What’s YOUR favorite film you saw in April?

Question of the Week: Who gave your favorite performance(s) of 2013 so far?

Hello everyone! Well, April has been quite an eclectic movie watching month for me, as you’ll see in my monthly roundup is coming tomorrow. Since I’ve been working on a bunch of indie reviews lately, I feel like taking a bit of break today. Instead, I’d like to pick your brains a bit my fellow cinephiles and awesome movie bloggers. You’ve likely been watching a bunch of movies and/or TV shows the past four months, and for me, one of the highlights as a movie blogger is discovering ‘new’ talents or at least talents you haven’t seen before. In fact, it could also be actors you might have seen previously, but didn’t realize what they’re capable of until you see them in certain films.

For me, the two performances that stood out to me recently happen to be from films I saw at MSP Film Fest. Both performances are from non-Hollywood actors: Danish Mads Mikkelsen in The Hunt (review coming later this week), and London-born (from Pakistani heritage) Riz Ahmed in The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

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Mads Mikkelsen and Riz Ahmed

Now, granted Mads has been in blockbuster films like Casino Royale (hello Le Chiffre!) and even the abominable Paul W.S. Anderson’s The Three Musketeers, but his indie cred is still very much intact, as he continues to mix things up with smaller projects like the taut Danish thriller The Hunt which was produced in his home country.

LakeBell_directingIn any case, I was muy impressed by these two actors, not only in their leading man charisma, but also in their ability to convey a layered emotional performance with their quiet, introspective sensibilities. It’s interesting that they’re both playing ‘regular guys’ who are unfairly judged in the court of public opinion.

I was also impressed by Lake Bell in her directorial debut of In A World (review also coming later this week), a comedy about the voice over industry. She turns out to be quite a triple threat as she wrote, directed and acted in her film (which was well-received at Sundance). Roadside Attraction has since acquired the film (per Deadline) so I’m hoping more of you would be able to see it. I sure hope she continues to act and direct, as we definitely need more good female filmmakers in Hollywood.


Now it’s your turn folks, in the spirit of sharing your recommendations, please share YOUR pick of excellent performances you’ve seen so far in 2013.

Feel free to leave links/clips, etc. in the comments. Thanks in advance and do spread the word :D

Weekend Viewing Roundup: Three Musketeers (2011) & Lambent Fuse Premiere

Happy Monday all! Did you watch an Irish-related movie or were you at the cinema watching 21 Jump Street? I have zero interest in seeing it but surprisingly that movie’s a hit w/ the critics AND audiences to make #1 at the box office!

My hubby and I got Apple TV over the weekend and we absolutely love it! So instead of renting through Amazon on Demand, we now rent stuff via iTunes and the streaming quality is actually a lot better. Anyway, as is customary with most of my weekend viewings, I like to mix up different genres. I was thisclose on renting My Week with Marilyn but we wanted something with a bit more action so we went with The Three Musketeers, well suffice to say we regretted our decision within 10 minutes!

Last night my friend Astrid and I went to the Lambent Fuse premiere, the one I featured last Wednesday. We met briefly with the director Matt Cici who introduced the movie. We’re also treated with a mini concert from a local folk singer (who can rap as well as he sings!) before the movie, definitely making the $10 bucks ticket even more worthwhile!

Here are my mini reviews of the two:

THREE MUSKETEERS (2011)

As I’ve alluded to in my intro, the latest Alexandre Dumas adaptation is a dud! I actually put this on my most-anticipated of 2011 as I love the cast, but was dissuaded by the dismal reviews. But I figure it’s at least worth a rental right? Ahah, well barely.

Ok, I have to admit the three musketeers look good in tight leather ;)

I’m not even going to write about the plot as most of you certainly already know about the tale of the famous French guards: Arthos, Porthos and Aramis and the young D’Artagnan. Paul W.S. Anderson, whose films Mortal Kombat, Event Horizon, Resident Evil, etc. are definitely NOT my cup of tea, promises a re-imagining story of the legendary swashbuckling adventure. Well, this tells me to NEVER trust a film by this UK director again, no matter how good the cast!

Speaking of which, I really think it’s criminal to waste such a plethora of talents, including Christoph Waltz, Mads Mikkelsen and the three actors playing the musketeers: Matthew Macfadyen, Luke Evans and Ray Stevenson. We know all of these actors are capable of so much more given their resume, but they’re given so little to do and the inept script is practically cringe-worthy! Now, Milla Jovovich as the seductive and skilled assassin and the wildly-ornamented Orlando Bloom are right on their element here as neither of them have any business as an actor.

Oh Christoph, just what are you doing in this movie??!

The worst part of all is of course the D’Artagnan casting. 20-year-old Californian Logan Lerman is so out of his league in that role of a supposedly daring rascal, as he lacks any kind of charisma believability even for a fantasy flick like this one. To say he’s a far cry from Gabriel Byrne’s portrayal in The Man in The Iron Mask is putting it mildly. I really think that if someone with just a smidgen more talent (perhaps someone like Nicholas Hoult?) this movie might have a teeny bit of saving grace. Lerman didn’t even bother attempting a British accent, yes I know the Musketeers are supposedly French guards but at least it’d be more consistent if the actors all speak with the same accent.

The action sequences are nothing new, pretty much a rip-off of Matrix and other similarly-styled action flicks after that. Even the music sounds like a rip-off of The Dark Knight, Gladiator & those Pirates of the Carribean movies! The preposterous plot is topped with the air-ships where a lot of the fighting takes place. Logic doesn’t seem to be a factor in this movie, as these articulate & complex ships seem to have been built in a matter of days! And we’re not talking of just ONE flying ship, but an entire armada! Perhaps the director has secretly wished he had directed a Pirates movie?? [shrugs] The only decent thing about this movie is the set pieces which I thought looked beautiful, but really, set pieces alone don’t make a movie!!

Final Thoughts: Unless you are die-hard fans of any of the cast, I’d say skip this one. Seriously, it made even the 1993 version with Charlie Sheen as Aramis (ha!) seemed like an Oscar contender, at least Tim Curry looked like he had more fun as the Cardinal than Christoph did. Mr. Dumas must be spinning in his grave!

1.5 out of 5 reels


LAMBENT FUSE (2011)

As I’ve described in detail in the interview post with director Matt Cici, this film is a character study of six characters whose decisions and life scenarios somehow get entangled with one another. Each of the characters have a certain condition that practically takes over their lives to a degree, ranging from kleptomania, deep depression resulting from a personal loss, to irrational obsession.

The film doesn’t preach about certain morality so much as presenting in a non-chronological manner, what the characters’ choices affect others and their own. As Matt mentioned in the interview, “… and audience watches this film and becomes more of a participant rather than just a viewer. They may impart judgement on what’s right and what’s not right…” and I find myself doing just that as I’m watching it.

The one character I’m taken with the most is Freddie Goone (Rhett Romsaas) who lost his sister in a hit-and-run accident one night and is overtaken by grief and vengeance pretty much wrecks his relationship with his girlfriend Allison (Heidi Fellner). I feel like his journey up until the explosive ending is the most engaging than the rest, and his encounter with the unlikely ‘enemy’ if you will is done quite well.

The nice things about watching a locally-made film is that we’re not focusing on the unknown actors and our predisposed feelings about them, but more on the narration. By the same token though, I feel that some of the actors are not as experienced and thus compromise the quality of the film. The emotional scenes between Freddie and Allison for example, could’ve been much more heart-wrenching but I didn’t really feel the connection between the two actors. The robbery scenes are whimsical and get the most laughs but again, most of these characters are so unsympathetic it’s hard to really connect with them. Speaking of whimsical, the fast-paced finale taking place at the Mpls/St. Paul airport ends up being unintentionally comical to me than I’m sure it’s intended to be. I also think the link between all these characters isn’t as strong as I would have liked it, but the concept is certainly intriguing.

Overall I think Lambent Fuse is a worthy debut from Matt Cici. Despite some of the really slow parts, there are much to be enjoyed here, and I do think the cinematography is beautiful. The use of music also adds to the mood without overpowering the story, and it’s great that he collaborates with local musicians for this film. I think the fact that he chose such a challenging non-chronological style is to be commended, the story is quite dense and hard to follow at times because there are so much going on, but I was able to digest quite a bit of it in my first viewing.
Final Thoughts: This is not a ‘feel-good’ movie, in fact it’s more of a somber, melancholy affair. I enjoyed it for the most part, and in some degree the story still lingers with me even hours after I watched it. A promising debut from Matt Cici, I hope he continues to make films in the future!
… 
3 out of 5 reels

So what did you see this weekend, folks? Thoughts on either one of these films, please do share in the comments!

Everyone’s a Critic – Flame & Citron, Faster Reviews

Welcome to another edition of Everyone’s a Critic! It’s been about three months since the last EaC post, and as always, we’ve got two very different genres from FC’s loyal readers/contributors. Special thanks to my pals Paula and Ted!

FLAME & CITRON (2008)



Made in Denmark in 2008, and based on actual events, the largely unseen Flame and Citron takes us into the world of two members of Holger Danske, the Danish Resistance during World War II. The Nazis have invaded and taken over Denmark. The Gestapo, Wehrmacht, Abwehr, and SS are everywhere. In this lethal atmosphere, two Danish patriots liquidate traitors—Danes who collaborate with the Nazis—knowing that being caught means certain death. Baby-faced killer Bent (Danish actor Thure Lindhardt), known to the authorities and his colleagues in the Resistance as Flame , is intense and reckless, though there’s an ever-increasing price on this head.

Told by his partner Jørgen to dye his ginger hair or wear a hat, Bent ignores the suggestion. Jørgen, a.k.a Citron (Mads Mikkelsen – Casino Royale, Valhalla Rising), is quiet and determined. He is a relatively old hand at Resistance activities; he was involved before Bent and is the last surviving member of an earlier underground group. His involvement is presumably what led to his split from his wife and his pill habit…he sleeps in his car. They have the chemistry of longtime law enforcement partners chasing bad guys in a buddy picture (which, if you think about it, they are), but these characters are well-drawn and well-acted, so they go beyond rookie and veteran stereotypes. We see their personalities and quirks and are invested from the beginning.

Their boss is the shadowy Aksel Winther, a well-connected police solicitor, who is supposedly getting orders from the British. Can they trust him? Bent and Jørgen, and the viewer, only have Winther’s word for it. Because business must be conducted in secret, no one really knows. “There aren’t many of us, and it’s hard to tell who does what,” Bent says. As the film begins, they run afoul of Winther for a killing he didn’t order. Winther says he just wants them to be disciplined, but later it seems he is shielding some of the traitors who make Bent’s trigger finger itch. Why does Winther order Bent and Jørgen to execute certain people but forbid them from taking out the head of the Gestapo in Denmark? Is he trying to maintain all of their covers or is he a double agent?

Flame and Citron draws on film noir and previous WWII espionage movies. Director Ole Christian Madsen has acknowledged particularly Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1969 neo-noir Army of Shadows, about a group in the French Resistance. As in that film, colors are mostly desaturated, suggesting the austerity of life during a Nazi occupation. There is a femme fatale, of course. Mysterious and cool, Ketty (Stine Stengade) is introduced with a building dissonance on the soundtrack. She reels Bent in even though he thinks he knows her game. And in the beginning, there is also a weary-detective-style voiceover by Bent, which Madsen uses to place the viewer in much the same position as our anti-heroes. We get pieces of the puzzle, but never really know exactly what’s going on, until the end. If then. But the film is resolutely its own thing—a shadowy spy thriller with a dose of documentary style, a partial history of the Danish Resistance including a side order of star-crossed romance, all in one fascinating and affecting film. As it progresses, there is sense of increasing paranoia as the Nazis close in and the two become tangled in an ever-thickening web of lies. It kept me guessing until the end and made me think about what I would do if I were in their places.

– review by Paula @ Paula’s Cinema Club


FASTER


Faster was Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson first true action film since Doom and it was pretty entertaining. The story is about an ex-con who just got released from prison and decided to go on a killing spree to avenge his brother’s death years ago. Along the way, he was being tracked by a contract killer and a veteran cop with a suspect background. The movie pretty much focused on these three characters, The Rock played a character simply named Driver, Billy Bob Thornton played the cop and new comer Oliver Jackson-Cohen played the hired killer. Director George Tillman Jr. was really trying to pay homage to 1970s action thriller, if you’re a fan of 70s cinemas like myself then I think you’ll know what I mean when you see Faster. For the most part he succeeded, but I thought he totally messed up the last 20 or so minutes of the film.

The movie starts out like its title, fast and faster. Driver got out of jail and proceeded to start killing his prey one by one. Then we were introduced to the other two characters, Killer and Cop and also we got to know a little bit about their personal lives. I think it was bold move by the filmmakers to tell the story this way, considering the trailer made it look like the film was about The Rock going on a killing spree and kicking ass, well he did a lot of that. But it was kind of surprise to see these other two characters shared the same amount of screen time as the lead character. I think that’s the weakness of the movie, instead of focusing on the lead actor, they’ve decided to also focus on the two lesser interesting characters. I would’ve preferred to see more of Driver’s background and have the cop and killer just in supporting roles.

As I mentioned before, I really enjoyed this movie up until the last 20 minutes or so. I thought the ending was quite predictable and didn’t live up to its title. I wanted to see hard and fast action for the finally but it never happened. They included the alternate ending on DVD/Blu-ray that has a big action scene but it didn’t make sense so I was glad they cut it out. I just think the writers should’ve came up with a better ending and delivered a rousing action for the climax.

I do recommend it if you’re in the mood from mindless action flick, but don’t expect too much from it.

– review by Ted S.


Any thoughts about either or both of these films? Do share ‘em below in the comments.