Winter Brothers (Vinterbrødre)


Above the ground, it’s a winter wonderland but below is another story.

(2017) Drama (Masterplan) Elliott Crosset Hove, Simon Sears, Victoria Carmen Sonne, Lars Mikkelsen, Peter Plaugborg, Michael Brostrup, Anders Hove, Laurits Honoré Rønne, Jannik Jensen, Christopher Lillman, Frédéric André, Mikkel Frederiksen, Stefan Mølholt, Birgit Thøt Jensen. Directed by Hlynur Pálmason

There is something unnatural about working deep underground. Sounds are eerie, seeming to come from everywhere and nowhere; your co-workers are mysterious shadows, illuminated only by headlamps and the sparks of pickaxes swung at the walls of the cavern. The air is stale and smells of sweat and despair.

It is in this environment that brothers Johan (Sears) and Emil (E.C. Hove) labor. The Danish limestone mine is located in the middle of nowhere, the height of winter making it even more remote and isolated. A small town has grown up around the mine but there seems to be little or no amenities for the workers; in fact, it is almost like the mining company, having secured the employment of its workers, gives absolutely no thought to the lives they lead so long as the limestone gets processed.

Johan, a strapping young man, is popular with the community; Emil, who is less handsome and socially awkward, less so. At first he seems to prefer being alone but it soon becomes apparent that he craves attention and love, particularly from Anna (Sonne) who is quite possibly the only young woman his age in town but true to form barely knows he’s alive.

So he does little things; he learns magic tricks that are mildly amusing but what threatens to break out his popularity is a home-brewed moonshine that he makes using stolen chemicals from the plant. And if that sounds like a desperately bad idea folks, it definitely is because one of the miners gets seriously ill after drinking the stuff and Emil is blamed. His somewhat condescending boss Carl (Mikkelsen) calls him out on the carpet and while Emil remains employed he is clearly not wanted.

Emil begins obsessing over an M-1 rifle he bartered away from a neighbor (A. Hove) begins to watch a British military training video on how to fire the weapon and while naked begins to imitate the poses taken by the soldiers. This doesn’t bode well for the tight-knit community or for Emil – or for Johan for that matter who comes into conflict with his brother.

Pálmason is from Iceland and when you see this movie, you might figure out the nationality of the director without knowing that in advance particularly if you’re familiar with the indie rock coming out of Iceland these days – beautiful, atonal and evocative. The film is all of those things.

The director comes from a visual arts background so it is unsurprising that the story isn’t told in the kind of fashion filmgoers might be used to. It’s almost more of a textural thing; images that seem to be linked not necessarily by some sort of linear component but more of how it fits in to the texture of the story and of the scene. It can be frustrating sometimes for the audience to connect the dots as it were but once you get the hang of it things start to make sense.

It is for all its stark winter landscapes and bleak industrial interiors a beautiful movie to watch; cinematographer Maria von Hausswolff does a spectacular job. Even the shabby houses of the town residents have a peculiar dignity to them. The score by Toke Brorson Odin melds machine noises, electronic soundscapes and minimal instrumentation to make something lovely and forbidding, perfectly complimenting the visuals.

The one drawback here is the film’s ending. Not to give anything away but it really left a bitter taste in my mouth. That of course may have been the director’s intention – you never can tell with those Icelanders – but then again I might just not have “gotten” it. Sometimes even artsy fartsy critics don’t connect with a particular film as much as they might want to.

As you can guess from the tone of the review, this isn’t for everyone. Those who love a rip-roaring yarn may be put off by this; those who love to be challenged by movies that don’t go down traditional paths will likely be drawn to it. If the latter sounds like it might be you, by all means pursue this one – coming to a film festival or streaming service near you, no doubt.

For those in Miami who want to order tickets to the Festival, click here.

REASONS TO GO: There is some beautiful cinematography capturing plenty of winter desolation.
REASONS TO STAY: The ending is disappointing.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity, adult themes, sexuality and male frontal nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Elliott Crosset Hove is the son of acclaimed Danish actor Anders Hove; his father makes a brief appearance in a small role.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/14/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Matewan
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Paddington 2

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Killbillies (Idila)


Slovenia: Land of natural beauty and bored models.

Slovenia: Land of natural beauty and bored models.

(2015) Horror (Artsploitation) Nina Ivanisin, Lotos Sparovec, Nika Rozman, Sebastian Cavazza, Jurij Drevensek, Manca Ogorevc, Damjana Cerne, Matic Bobnar, Damir Leventic, Ajda Smrekar, Liza Marija Grasic, Kaja Janjic, Klemeth Nadler, Polona Torkar, Luka Zivec, Kristof Modic, Jana Nucic, Robert Sercer, Alen Rupnik, Gregor Janez, Tina Jenko, Nastasia Koncina, Nada Bozic. Directed by Tomaz Gorkic

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It is often the most idyllic countryside that is the most remote. Those places that are for the most part unspoiled by modern society seem to be the most beautiful. They can also be the most dangerous.

Zina (Ivanisin) is an amateur model who is very much aware that she is no longer in demand and that the time for career success as literally passed her by. Unpopular with her fellow models for her no-bullshit attitude, she is honest to a fault and sometimes pisses off people with her straightforward opinions. She goes out for a night of drinking with three other girls who also dabble in modeling at a bar that can only charitably be described as a dive, but one of the girls likes the home-brewed liquor they served, all of it coming out of bottles with a curious whorl pattern on the label and nothing else. The ladies gossip amongst themselves until Zina is accosted in the unisex bathroom and has to resort to kneeing the guy who won’t take go to Hell for an answer right in the family jewels.

The next day she has a photo shoot with veteran photographer Blitcz (Cavazza) who also brings ditzy Mia (Rozman) for the outdoor shoot. They are joined by make-up artist Dragica (Ogorevc) who is a former model herself. They head out to a meadow way in the boonies of Slovenia and one has to admit, the location is beautiful but not so well-chosen; they are in short order approached by Francl (Sparovec) and Vintlr (Drevensek), two inbred redneck types whose country bumpkin look belies their sinister intent. They manage to overpower the four of them and transport them to a basement.

It turns out that these two yokels are moonshiners and their liquor is very special – it is distilled from the essence of fluid extracted from the human brain. It is an extremely painful process and one that is fatal to the person unlucky enough to be distilled, so to speak. Zina realizes after one of their number is brutally bludgeoned to death in front of her that they will all die if she doesn’t find a way out of the basement, but beyond it there are miles of forest that her captors know well – and she knows not at all. It will take all her wits and will to live to survive.

I wasn’t expecting much to be honest; I admit I’m not terribly familiar with the Slovenian film industry and I had my doubts that this would be anything more than a Grade Z cheapie. Instead, it turned out to be a suspenseful little action-packed gem with some pretty decent performances, particularly from Rozman and Ivanisin and some pretty spectacular gore effects that would do a big-budget Hollywood film proud.

The movie is pretty much divided between spectacular outdoor shots in the countryside and cramped, claustrophobic interiors. Both look pretty darn good, although some of the interiors are a little too dimly lit. Still, the last twenty minutes or so which is essentially one long chase scene is almost all outdoors and done with extreme effectiveness.

There isn’t a lot of sexuality here, although the ladies are gorgeous and one of the inbreds does seem like he’s going to rape one of the models midway through the movie but for the most part sex here is almost all unwanted by the ladies which makes for some interesting psychology. There is also a clear urban vs. rural divide here that hearkens back to classics like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and House of 1,000 Corpses that clearly have influenced the work here.

The behavior of the models with the exception of Zina is pretty much shallow and irritating, so some viewers having to listen to Mia prattle on interminably might get a little bit done with her before the film is done with her but she is dang pretty to look at. There is also a ton of smoking in the film; I found it somewhat amusing that all the gorgeous models smoke like chimneys but the horribly mutated hillbillies do not.

The effects make-up on Francl and Vintlr are also pretty nifty; Francl has a bulbous nose and a sunken right eye with pock marks and pustules turning his skin into a teen’s worst nightmare, while Vintlr has an elongated face, teeth only a Brit could love and also his share of skin issues. Both of them are about as ugly as you can imagine and while I wish there would have been more use of Mia’s shallowness about good-looking guys be laid bare by her revulsion to the spectacularly ugly country boys, the monsters here are satisfactory, although as things turn out, the worst monsters might be the ones who look normal.

In any case, this is in Slovenian with English subtitles but it’s well worth checking out, particularly this time of year. It’s a really fine film that you’ve never heard of so if you’re looking for something a little different to push your fright buttons this Halloween, this is truly a find you might appreciate.

WHY RENT THIS: It’s a surprisingly well-made film that cranks up the suspense in the last 20 minutes. The locations are beautiful.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the acting is a little bit over-the-top. Some of the shallow behavior of the models might be irritating to some.
FAMILY VALUES: A fair amount of gore and violence, some profanity and sexual situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first full-length horror film to be produced by and in Slovenia.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.
SITES TO SEE: Amazon Prime, Vimeo
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Hills Have Eyes
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Day 2 of Six Days of Darkness!

The Ridiculous 6


The Old West was never this wild.

The Old West was never this wild.

(2015) Western Comedy (Netflix) Adam Sandler, Luke Wilson, Rob Schneider, Nick Nolte, Jorge Garcia, Terry Crews, Will Forte, Steve Zahn, Harvey Keitel, Jon Lovitz, Whitney Cummings, David Spade, Danny Trejo, Nick Swardson, Blake Shelton, Vanilla Ice, Julia Jones, Saginaw Grant, Lavell Crawford, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro, Chris Kattan, Norm McDonald, Jackie Sandler. Directed by Frank Coraci

With Westerns making a bit of a comeback lately, it’s inevitable that there would be movies that poke fun at the genre. With Adam Sandler involved, that means there are a segment of people who will tune in no matter what. Others will stay away in droves.

White Knife (Sandler) is an orphan, taken in by the Apache when his mother was murdered. The Apache chief Screaming Eagle (Grant) teaches the young white boy how to fight, and the ways of the Apache warrior, which turn out to be somewhat more Zen than Caucasian culture gave them credit for. He is engaged to Smoking Fox (Jones), the most beautiful woman in the tribe. When a would-be outlaw (Zahn) tries to make trouble with her, White Knife makes short work of him.

However, there is trouble on the horizon. White Knife’s biological father, whom he never knew, shows up at the camp. His name is Frank Stockburn (Nolte) and he wants to make get to know the son he never knew. Just then, his old outlaw gang led by the notorious Cicero (Trejo) shows up and Stockburn hides his stash with the tribe, knowing Cicero will take it. Instead, Cicero takes Frank who tries to lead the gang away from the peaceful Native Americans by saying the stash is buried by an old windmill. White Knife knows that unless Cicero gets the $50,000 that Frank had taken, the old man would be killed.

Having just met his dad, White Knife isn’t willing to let him die. He heads out after them, vowing to obtain the money one way or another to rescue dear old dad. However, it turns out Dear Old Dad was very busy. White Knife discovers he has five half-brothers of other mothers – Ramon (Schneider) the Mexican bandito with the amazing diarrhea donkey, Lil’ Pete (Lautner) who’s the village idiot for more than one village but has a curiously strong neck, Chico (Crews) a saloon pianist who doesn’t use his fingers to tickle the ivories but something a little more genitalia-like, Herm (Garcia) the nearly unintelligible moonshiner and Danny (Wilson) who was Abe Lincoln’s bodyguard at Ford’s Theater who inadvertently showed John Wilkes Booth (Kattan) the road to infamy.

All six of these men have peculiar talents. All six are eager to rescue their father. And all six are incredibly, incredibly ridiculous. The Old West will never be the same once they’ve hit town.

Sandler as I alluded to earlier seems to affect people in extreme ways; either they are utterly devoted to him, or they hate him with a passion. He seems to inspire no middle ground. I try to be as objective as I can about him but I find that when he tends to be a little more serious I actually appreciate him more; his humor tends to be a little more scatological and quite frankly, a bit more juvenile-appealing than is my own personal taste.

He has assembled an impressive cast, several of whom (Crews, Schneider, MacDonald) are all veterans of SNL or of Sandler films, as well as folks like Nolte – who does a fine job here unsurprisingly – and Lautner, who does a really good job here, surprisingly. The latter hasn’t really exhibited much in the way of comedy chops previously, having done mostly action roles in movies that weren’t all that good. However, he proves to have some timing and comic presence, neither of which are easy tasks. I found myself liking him here, which isn’t my usual reaction to his performances.

Part of the problem here is that a lot of jokes fell flat for me, and it appears to a lot of other critics as well (see scores below). The whole thing about the amazing crapping donkey is humor at the level of five-year-olds and I know Sandler is better than that. Still, one can’t argue with success and most of the movies of his that reap box office gold have been the ones that have been, to me, the most childish. I think that says a lot more about the movie-going public than it does about Sandler.

Westerns tend to lend themselves to wonderful vistas and extraordinary cinematography and this movie was no different as veteran Dean Semler gives us some pretty pictures to look at. This is one of Sandler’s most cinematic films which makes it a bit ironic that it was released directly to Netflix as part of his four-picture deal with the streaming giant. However, it wasn’t for lack of trying; the film was in development at three different theatrical studios until Netflix finally came in and got it made.

There has been some controversy about the portrayal of Native American culture and I don’t intend to ignore it. While some outlets got nearly hysterical about it to the point of knee-jerkiness, the fact is that that several Native American extras had some concerns about the jokes made at the expense of their culture and eventually walked off the set when those concerns weren’t addressed. The initial reports made it sound like there was an uprising the size of Little Big Horn; in actuality the affair involved four extras, far less than the 150 Native American extras who were employed by the film. Watching the movie, I didn’t see anything that was more than culturally insensitive but the movie seemed to be that way to nearly everyone, in particular the white culture itself. Perhaps if the movie had been better written the insults would have seemed less egregious.

REASONS TO GO: A really good cast with Nolte and Lautner actually doing some good work. Lovely cinematography.
REASONS TO STAY: Unnecessarily dumb gags and situations. Attempts at parody miss the mark.
FAMILY VALUES: Some rude humor, mild profanity and sexual innuendo.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A group of Native American extras walked off the set due to what they perceived as negative and inaccurate portrayals of their culture; while initially the number of extras involved was reported to be about a dozen, sources close to the film put the number at four actors.
BEYOND THE THEATER:  Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/18/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 0% positive reviews. Metacritic: 18/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Million Ways to Die in the West
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Angels Crest

Lawless


The Bondurants confront the law, or vice versa.

The Bondurants confront the law, or vice versa.

(2012) Crime Drama (Weinstein) Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Dane DeHaan, Chris McGarry, Tim Tolin, Gary Oldman, Lew Temple, Marcus Hester, Bill Camp, Alex Van, Noah Taylor, Mark Ashworth, Tom Proctor, Bruce McKinnon, Eric Mendenhall, Toni Byrd, Robert T. Smith. Directed by John Hilcoat

Crime movies about the Prohibition era tended to be centered in Chicago or other big cities and involved gangsters with Tommie guns in big cars shooting at coppers and other gangsters in glorious black and white. There haven’t been a lot of movies about the effects of bootlegging in rural areas except during the ’70s and those tended to be more corn pone comedies than anything else.

However bootlegging was a going concern outside of the cities as well. In Franklin County, Virginia, the Bondurant brothers have become legends since their heyday during the Depression. The three brothers are led by taciturn Forrest (Hardy), the brains of the operation, who never met an awkward silence he didn’t like. Middle brother Howard (Clarke), more brute than man, would be the brawn of the operation other than he partakes a little more of the moonshine than he probably should. Finally there’s Jack (LaBeouf), a kid with big dreams but little backbone as yet.

The Bondurants mostly sell their liquor to Floyd Banner (Oldman) who in turn puts their product into his speakeasies. It’s a pretty cozy arrangement with the local Sheriff (Camp) looking the other way. However, federal agent Charlie Rakes (Pearce) comes out of the big city with big ideas, a dandy fashion sense, a really swell haircut and enough corruption to rot every orange in Florida. He wants a piece of Bondurant pie and Forrest, well, he’s just not that willing to give it to him. So a kind of war erupts between the honest bootleggers and the corrupt federal agents. Welcome to the 1930s, Jack.

There are plenty of extraneous characters in the mix, like the waitress that Forrest hires to work their gas station/restaurant (Chastain), the daughter of a preacher that Jack falls for (Wasikowska) and the mechanical genius (DeHaan) who befriends Jack and becomes an integral part of the operation. There’s also plenty of violence, with gun battles erupting with a somewhat depressing regularity. Prohibition was no picnic after all.

Hilcoat, who teamed with Aussie alt-rocker Nick Cave (who wrote this based on a fictionalized account of the real-life Bondurant clan) on the highly praised western The Proposition (which also starred Pearce, come to think of it) has a good ear for period rhythms, not just in speech but in depicting the hard scrabble daily lives of those who lived in that era. He certainly managed to snag an impressive cast; even those in throwaway roles are high-powered and indeed they all deliver; there’s not a subpar performance in the bunch.

En route to becoming a punch line, LaBeouf had moments where his talent shown through and this was one of them. Although Hardy shows why he is today one of the biggest and most promising stars in Hollywood by making his character the focus of attention without using much dialogue to do it in, LaBeouf at least stays pretty much within shouting range of Hardy which is no mean feat. Both of them have to deal with Pearce’s highly mannered yet compelling performance as the movie’s ostensible villain which is ironic because he’s the cop and the good guys are the criminals. Oh, irony!

Speaking of compelling, the story is a good one and although not technically accurate – the real Bondurant brothers were not above being ruthless in their dealings and while the contempt they had for the federal government was likely quite accurately portrayed here, they weren’t saints. However, other than oral traditions about the boys, there isn’t a ton of information about them out there so we kind of have to rely on the words of witnesses long dead.

There are moments throughout when the story seems to lose its way and you can feel the movie sputtering a bit. However, Hilcoat is a director who I think should be getting a little more attention from the film cognoscenti than he has been and while nothing in life is certain, I think we’ll be seeing further interesting films from him in the years to come. Certainly with a cast like this he can’t go wrong and while the movie could have used a bit more judicious script editing, at least it’s never boring. Definitely a sleeper to look out for if you haven’t seen it yet.

WHY RENT THIS: Wonderful cast. Compelling story.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A bit aimless in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s a fair amount of violence (some of it graphic), a bit of swearing and some sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Composer/musician Nick Cave wrote the screenplay based on the book The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant, the grandson of the Shia LaBeouf character and is based loosely on actual events.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a featurette on the history of bootlegging in Franklin County, a featurette on the background of the Bondurant family and a music video by Willie Nelson.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $53.7M on a $26M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix. Amazon, VuduiTunes, Flixster
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Road to Perdition
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Love and Mercy

Young Adult


Young Adult

Mavis prepares for battle.

(2011) Black Comedy (Paramount) Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser, Collette Wolf, Jill Eikenberry, Richard Bekins, Mary Beth Hurt, Kate Nowlin, Jenny Dare Paulin, Rebecca Hart, Louisa Krause, Elizabeth Ward Land, John Forest. Directed by Jason Reitman

 

We are all of us a product of our upbringing, for better or for worse. We are shaped in ways that aren’t just shaped by our parents and our homes but also our peers, our schools, our experiences. The people we are can be traced in a direct line to the people we used to be in high school, sometimes for the better but not always. Sometimes we’re exactly the same.

Mavis Gary (Theron) is a writer of young adult fiction. To be more accurate, she’s a ghost writer of young adult fiction. She has taken over an immensely popular series of books set in an exclusive prep school and has presided over a successful run which is now coming to an end. In fact, she’s in the midst of writing the final book in the series.

Mavis lives in the big city – Minneapolis, not New York – but originally hails from a small town in Minnesota called Mercury. She fled the small town environs the first chance she got and she has no real desire to return – in fact, she hasn’t been home in years.

However all that changes when she gets a notice that her ex in Mercury – Buddy Slade (Wilson) – has just become a daddy. He has married Beth (Reaser), a classmate of theirs while Mavis has been married and divorced and now goes on a series of dates that end up in unfulfilling sex after a fair amount of liquid courage has been consumed. She gets it in her head that Buddy is trapped in a marriage that is sapping his soul and that she needs to go to Mercury and rescue him.

With her poor neglected dog in tow, she drives to the despised Mercury. While there she runs into Matt Freehauf (Oswalt) whose locker used to adjoin hers. She doesn’t really remember him until he brings out that he was the victim of a hate crime – a group of jocks who believed he was gay brutally beat him, shattering his leg and mangling his penis. It was big news…up until the moment the media found out that he wasn’t gay and so they lost interest. Apparently nobody cared that a short fat kid got the crap kicked out of him.

Matt and Mavis seem to be kindred spirits in  a way; although Mavis treats Matt like a toad, she respects that he tells her what he thinks and doesn’t kiss butt. For his part he figures out he has no shot with her anyway so he can afford to be direct.

He pleads with her that Buddy is happily married and in love with being a dad but Mavis is having none of it. She blows into town with all the finesse of cancer and inspiring twice the joy at her arrival. Most of the townspeople look a bit askance at her; she was the beautiful girl who left for the big city and made good – why the hell would she come back and ruin everything? But come back she does and ruin everything she tries to do.

Theron gives a terrific performance here. Mavis is distinctly unlikable and possibly even a little psychotic. She is self-obsessed to the point of mania and really doesn’t have a lot of empathy which you can read as “any.” Still, she manages to create a character that you can follow without liking, which is a neat trick that you can thank not only Theron but Reitman and writer Diablo Cody, the latter two who previously teamed on Juno.

Her chemistry with Oswalt is surprising. They are perhaps the ultimate of odd couples, but they do have a bond – the misfit who has been literally battered by life and the prom queen whose life has passed her by and whom, she suspects, happiness has also passed her by. Matt is positive that happiness has passed him by and he fills his hours with creating his own mash-up action figures and distilling his own bourbon, a hobby that meets with Mavis’ approval.

The problem here is that it’s sold as something of a black comedy but the awkward moments outnumber the funny ones. I guess my comedic sense is a bit too stone age for modern comedy but just creating a painfully awkward moment isn’t really enough to get me chuckling. Theron does a great job as Mavis but there are times you really want to punch her in the face.

I like that the ending didn’t take the easy way out with a typical Hollywood comeuppance. I also like that the movie is intelligently written, which is a certain box office kiss of death. Still in all, I can recommend the movie not without reservations but nonetheless worth seeing.

REASONS TO GO: Theron and Oswalt do stellar work. Nifty ending that isn’t too cliché.

REASONS TO STAY: As comedies go, not really funny. Mavis is a bit too unlikable at times.

FAMILY VALUES: A whole lot of foul language and a bit of sexual content.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Mavis drives a Mini-Cooper in the movie. Theron also drove a Mini-Cooper in the movies once before, for The Italian Job.

HOME OR THEATER: I’d guess this works just as well at home as it does at the multiplex.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey