RIDERS OF JUSTICE (2021)

May 12, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Carl Jung coined the term synchronicity to describe occurrences that appear related, yet lack a clear connection. Writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen (Nicolaj Arcel is credited with the idea) starts us off with a slew of coincidences: Mathilde’s bike is stolen, her dad calls to say his military assignment has been extended, her mom decides they should take the train to town, a man surrenders his seat to Mathilde’s mom, a passenger throws away his sandwich while getting off the train, a bomb derails the train after that stop, a key witness in a criminal trial is killed, and the man who gave up his seat is a probability expert who begins assembling the pieces before going to Mathilde’s dad to present his case. Were these coincidences related or is it possible meaning is being found where none exists?

Mads Mikkelsen stars as Markus, who returns home from military service to care for his teenage daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg) after the train wreck killed his wife/her mother (Anna Birgitte Lind). The problem is that Markus is a no-nonsense man who deals with his grief by not dealing at all … except for guzzling beer and slapping Mathilde’s boyfriend. Markus is a different look than what we usually get with Mads. His tussled hair has been sheared and he sports a full beard. He’s a combustible man about to burst with pent-up aggression, which makes him especially accepting to the theory he’s about to hear.

Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kass) is the statistical analyst who gave up his seat on the train. His partner Lennart (Lars Brygmann) is a brilliant man, likely on the spectrum, while Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro) is an obese loner and computer whiz. This trio reminds of The Lone Gunman from “The X-Files”, and add a dash of dark comedic flair to an otherwise weighty and somber affair. Soon joined by Bodashka (Gustav Lind), a victim a human trafficking, this is a team of flawed and damaged individuals, each dealing with their own personal baggage – while focused on Markus’ obsession with vengeance.

The titular Riders of Justice are a criminal gang whose leader was set to go on trial. The key witness died in the train wreck, kicking off the domino effect for Otto’s theory and Markus’ path of wrath. Can the series of coincidences be mathematically explained, and if so, can this group of overly intelligent, geeky misfits lead the vengeance-seeking husband down the path of vigilante justice?

Filmmaker Jensen nicely balances the moments of extreme violence with the Brainiac segments so that we can easily follow what Markus is doing, and why. The group therapy has us questioning if life can be mathematically predicted, or if coincidences are simply that. Other supporting work comes from Roland Moller and Albert Rudbeck Lindhart, but as you might expect, it’s Mikkelsen who captivates on screen. He’s not skilled as a cuddly parent, but his military training suits this mission. Were this to receive a U.S. remake (hopefully not), we could expect Liam Neeson or Denzel Washington as obvious choices for the lead.

NY & LA theaters May 14th, 2021 and everywhere May 21st, 2021.

WATCH THE TRAILER


ANOTHER ROUND (2021, Denmark)

April 24, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Denmark), its director, Thomas Vinterberg was also nominated for Best Director. Mr. Vinterberg also directed the excellent 2012 film, THE HUNT, and this time out, he collaborates yet again with his co-writer and lead actor from that film: Tobias Lindholm and Mads Mikkelsen, respectively.

Mikkelsen (already one of the few must-watch actors) stars as Martin, a married man, father of two, and history teacher. His long-time friends include Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), a PE coach; Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) a Psychology instructor; and Peter (Lars Ranthe), the music teacher. The buddies are chatting over dinner as they celebrate Nikolaj’s 40th birthday, and they come to realize they are each floating through life – in a mid-life crisis of sorts, neither happy nor sad. It’s at this point where Norwegian Psychiatrist Finn Skarderud’s hypothesis is discussed. They agree to test Skarderud’s theory by maintaining a .05% Blood Alcohol Content (BAC), even while teaching.

Almost immediately, the men each feel mentally sharper, more engaged, and awakened to their lives. Martin re-connects with his wife, Anika (Maria Bonnevie), and becomes a history teacher that inspires students … quite a change from the complaints he had been receiving. The accomplishments of Hemingway and Churchill are discussed, as if alcoholics need role models. And then, to push a good thing even farther, the men decide if .05% works, why not take it to .10%? Well that’s what the men do, and of course, the results aren’t so great – ranging from upsetting to tragic.

Is it possible to re-discover a life that’s being wasted in self-pity or a state of numbness? Can alcohol jolt one back to life after the loss of youth and the reality of adult responsibility? Mid-life crisis has been addressed in many films, and alcohol is often part of the story … think SIDEWAYS (2004). We learn here that the Danish culture involves heavy drinking, and in Denmark, there is an extraordinarily high rate of teenage drinking.

The film is well acted, and Mikkelsen is terrific. Vinterberg dedicated the film to his daughter Ida, who was scheduled to appear in the film before dying in a car crash. He strategically includes Kierkegaard’s quote about life being lived forwards, but only understood backwards, and that truly is the crux of what the men are experiencing. The final scene is extraordinary and unexpected, as Mikkelsen wows with an interpretative and energetic dance to “What a Life” by Scarlet Pleasure. What a life, indeed. And perhaps there is hope after all.

Available on HULU

WATCH THE TRAILER


THE SALVATION (2014)

March 8, 2015

salvation Greetings again from the darkness. It is initially a bit disorienting to settle in to watch a Western shot in South Africa by Danish filmmakers with a story based in 19th century America. However, any doubts are quickly forgotten thanks to terrific writing, powerful acting, and creative camera work set to a distinctive soundtrack.

Blood, dirt, politics, true loss and crackling gun play accompany what is, at its core, a story of vengeance … and of course, good vs evil. We open in 1871 America, seven years after Jon (Mads Mikkelsen) and his brother Peter (Mikael Persbrandt) left Denmark after fighting in the war. Today is the day that Jon’s wife (singer Nanna Oland Fabricius) and son (Toke Lars Bjarke) arrive, and the separation has been tough on all. The reunion is destroyed in the most awful manner imaginable thanks to a couple of drunken ex-cons sharing the stagecoach. Of course, salvation and vengeance would not be required if there were no turning point, and Jon’s natural reaction is what sparks the real fireworks in the story.

One of the bad guys on the wagon is the brother of powerful local gangster Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). We quickly learn he is not a rational man and cares little for anything other than making money and gaining revenge on his brother’s killer. Delarue stands for all the bullies of any era, while Jon and his brother Pete represent the huddled masses incited to action only through gross injustice. There are many details and elements that set this above the traditional western, and one of those is the presence of Madelaine (Eva Green) who was married to Delarue’s murdered brother, and was previously disfigured and muted by Native Americans.

It’s impossible not to notice the similarities and influences of John Ford, Sergio Leone and the classic High Noon (cowardly townspeople, morals corrupted under duress). Director Kristian Levring even superimposes the very familiar vistas of Monument Valley into some shots, and it’s done so well that our eyes simply accept the landscape. Mr. Levring also presents us a uniquely lit stagecoach in the moonlight scene that was beautiful to look at, despite the violent nature of what was happening. Composer Kasper Winding (brother to director Nicolas Winding Refn) adds a distinctive guitar that recalls the haunting effects of Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack to Leone’s classic Once Upon a Time in America … a very effective complement.

The lead actors are superb and well cast – though Jeffrey Dean Morgan goes 180 degrees against type as the evil-to-the-bone Delarue. Eva Green speaks volumes with her fiery eyes, and Mikael Persbrandt (who was so great in In A Better World) adds to the quiet-wild feel of the film. The bulk of the action falls to Mads Mikkelsen, who thanks to Casino Royale, The Hunt, and TV’s “Hannibal” has become one of the finest actors working today. His facial tics and emotional depth convey much with few words, and his character’s expert marksmanship with a Remington rifle is a welcome shift from the spraying automatic weaponry too common in film these days.

The politics of taking advantage of the unaware weak runs throughout the films, especially with the methodical “land grab” occurring so that the rich can capitalize on the “sticky oil” spoiling the water wells. You may not be a fan of Westerns, but there is much going on in this excellent script – and the visuals combined with expert acting should allow you to appreciate what expert filmmaking this is (especially given the low budget).

watch the trailer:

 


THE HUNT (Jagten, Denmark, 2012)

September 3, 2013

hunt1 Greetings again from the darkness. It’s the worst nightmare for every Parent, Teacher and Child. Sexual Abuse of a child is incomprehensible … it’s unthinkable, yet all too common. So what happens when a man is falsely accused of such inappropriate action? Well if the accusation comes from the most innocent of faces – a 5 year old girl – the falsely accused man stand no chance … regardless of what the letter of the law states.

Such is the story of Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen, TV’s “Hannibal“), a lonely, small town kindergarten teacher who has gone through a rough divorce and is losing his fight for visitation rights to his teenage son. We witness Lucas quietly going about his life … he is loved by the students and surrounded by life long hunting buddies and friends. Soon enough, things start to look up for Lucas. An attractive teacher expresses her interest in him and his son hunt2convinces the mother that he should live with his dad.

The set-up of the characters and the powerfully simmering performance of Mikkelsen elevate this somewhat predictable story to the brink of excruciating discomfort for the viewer. In the blink of a childhood moment of imaginative confusion of emotional pain, an innocent man’s life is forever altered. Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) is the daughter of Lucas’ best friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen). A very protective teacher unwittingly leads Klara down the path that initiates a landslide of emotion that simply cannot be stopped. Of course, the teachers and parents and community believe the cute little girl … the innocence of kids cannot be doubted. As the defensive instincts of parents kick in, we see the dangerous side of influence and suddenly numerous kids have piled on and become part of Klara’s story.

hunt3 Director Thomas Vinterberg brilliantly keeps us looking through the eyes of Lucas. We know he is innocent and we beg him to scream it! Instead, he expects everyone to just know he does not have this in him at all. His faith in himself never waivers despite our discomfort and anger. He does finally reach a boiling point after a heart-breaking scene in the local market, but even that moment does not feel like a victory.  The course of his life has been altered.

While “The Scarlet Letter” gave us an indication of exile by community, this story shows us just how quickly human nature has us jumping to conclusions and assuming the worst. Persecution and judgment by the mob is one of the most dangerous developments of society. Lucas reminds us that innocence and faith may not always be enough and sometimes life just isn’t fair.

**NOTE: this is extremely serious subject matter handled in a very straightforward manner by a talented director and extraordinary cast.  There are a few touches of dark humor, but mostly this is just an intense, difficult to watch film.

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ieLIOBkMgAQ

 


A ROYAL AFFAIR (En kongelig affaere, Denmark, 2012)

December 23, 2012

royal affair Greetings again from the darkness. I would venture a guess that most are as uninformed as I about this brief, but altogether impactive and fascinating period of history in Denmark. The story is bookended with the (late 17th century) letter that a seriously ill and deposed Queen Caroline sent to her children, the eldest who would later become King Frederick VI. Director Nikolaj Arcel co-wrote the script with Rasmus Heisterberg (the two also collaborated on the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and present insight into a most bizarre love triangle andpolitical power struggle that instigated national change … and then a severe reversal … and then change again.

We meet the luminous Caroline (Alicia Vikander from Anna Karenina) as she is traveling from England for her initial meeting with her new husband, King Christian VII of Denmark. Unfortunately, this intellectual and talented woman is stuck with a mentally unstable and childlike spouse. Once she fulfills her duty by delivering a son, the chamber visits are cut off and the two live mostly separate lives. The king is manipulated and controlled by the court and mostly just does what he is told to do, and signs royal affair2what he is supposed to sign. This keeps the aristocracy fat and happy, while continuing the harsh policies against the poor peasants.

A local doctor is arranged for the king’s European tour and we discover that this doctor has learned how to co-exist and gain the trust of the odd king. What few know is that this doctor … Johann Struensee is a revolutionary thinker and follower of Voltaire and Rousseau. He seeks social reform in Denmark and soon schemes with the idealistic queen to use Christian as their mouthpiece and gain control of the court.

It’s not long before Caroline and Struensee are sharing much more than ideas, and the big question is … will their downfall be their ideas for enlightenment or their dangerous love affair? Speaking of the love affair, it bears mention that this is one of those rare, royal affair3believable stories of true soul mates. Most movies, especially costume dramas, have us believe that soul mates are created by an exchange of glances across a crowded room. Here, the love between these two grows in step with their ideas for social reform. In other words, there is more than lust between Caroline and Struensee.

Sometimes the story gets a bit muddled between the love affair and the political maneuvering, but it’s not difficult to imagine that these conflicts actually occurred during this period. These are real people with real issues and it’s a pleasure to watch the tangled web.

Mads Mikkelsen is known to most as the villain Le Chiffre in Casino Royale. Here he captures the nuances of Dr Struensee as both a revolutionary figure and an illicit lover. Alicia Vikander is clearly on the verge of stardom and is wonderful as the complex Caroline. The real scene stealer here is Mikkel Boe Folsgaard as Christian. This key role could have easily spoiled the film in the wrong actor’s hands. Instead he balances the mental issues with enough doubt that we viewers are left wondering how much is illness and how much is insecurity … just how much did he understand?

This is a very well crafted, if somewhat conventional film that tells a remarkable story from a turbulent time in Denmark. It’s a story that deserves a greater audience … despite it’s lame title … and this Oscar contender (Foreign Language category) should provide just that.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are fan of costume dramas, especially when steeped in historical accuracies

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you believe all things are rotten from Denmark (see what I did there?)

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FGXNQu3fpP8