EXIT PLAN (2020)

June 11, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Euthanasia, ‘Dignity in Death’ or assisted suicide. Whatever you prefer to call it, those against the idea have likely never been in the situation where medical treatment provides no hope. Max Isaksen (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, “Game of Thrones”) is an Insurance Investigator. After his most recent scan, the doctor informs him that his brain tumor is growing and surgery is not an option. His bodily functions will slowly and mercilessly dissolve until death takes him.

Max is a non-descript kind of guy. The usually dashing Coster-Waldau is hidden behind old style wire-rimmed glasses and a mustache. He’s happily married, but can’t bring himself to tell his lovely wife Laerke (Tuva Novotny, ANNIHILATION, 2018) about the tumor or his inner thoughts. He’s frustrated that the special diet and app monitor didn’t ‘save’ him, so now he’s suffering with speech issues, headaches, and other ailments that serve as a reminder of the ultimate outcome.

While working with one of his clients, Max learns about the choice her husband made – Hotel Aurora, which promises “a beautiful ending.” It’s an enterprise that excels in secrecy and efficiency. Their sales pitch is an end to life that fulfills your fantasy. Just know that once you execute the agreement, there is no changing your mind. Instead, you are immediately given a sedative and put on a private plane where you are whisked away to the Danish-modern hotel in a remote, stunning setting. Support work is provided by Kate Ashfield (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, 2004) as the fake mother, and Jan Bijovet as Frank, the director of Aurora.

Denmark-born director Jonas Alexander Arnby and writer Rasmus Birch worked together on WHEN ANIMALS DREAM (2014) and here they explore an existential question about life and death, and whose choice it is. There is also the question of saying goodbye to loved ones and choosing the terms at the end. It’s a somber story that twists reality and dreams, and we can’t help but find some similarities to Yorgos Lanthimos’ THE LOBSTER (2015), although that one was infinitely more bizarre. There are a couple of moments of levity – such as asking for tips on tying a noose, and we do learn that Poppy Tea tastes best with lemon. Speaking of beverages, I lost count at the number of scenes featuring wine, juice, water or some other ingestible liquid. Sometimes it’s a bonding experiencing with a toast, while other times, it’s a biological need. Whatever the reason, taking a sip is somehow tied into the circle of life. As The Eagles sang in “Hotel California”, ‘you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” Welcome to the Aurora, where we never have to ask, ‘how was your stay?’

Available on VOD June 12, 2020

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INTRIGO: DEATH OF AN AUTHOR (2019)

January 16, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Daniel Alfredson directed two of the three films in the original “Millenium” trilogy by fellow Swede, the late Stieg Larsson. He handled THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE and THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST. Alfredson has now signed on to direct a trilogy of films based on Hakan Nesser’s “Intrigo” novellas. This is the first in the series, with “Dear Agnes” and “Samaria” coming soon (each with completely different casts).

Nesser’s stories have been adapted for the screen by Alfredson and Brigitta Bongenheim, and they face the challenge of all crime stories making the move to movies … how to create an equal level of suspense. Benno Furmann (JOYEUX NOEL, 2005) stars as David, a translator by profession who has written his first novel. We first see David on vacation with his wife Eva (Tuva Novotny, ANNIHILATION, 2018), who spoils his plans by telling him she is leaving him for her therapist. We next see him planning or imagining her death.

Flash forward three years and David has arranged a meeting with successful writer Alex Henderson (Sir Ben Kingsley, Oscar winner for GANDHI, 1982) in hopes of receiving advice on his debut novel. Their meeting takes place at Henderson’s isolated island retreat, which serves as his primary residence away from ‘people’, the lot of whom he readily admits he doesn’t much care for. Henderson agrees to let David read passages of his novel, and the ‘cat and mouse’ game is afoot.

David has been contracted to translate the final book of Austrian writer Germund Rein, who recently committed suicide (mysteriously) while at sea. As the twists and turns unfold, David begins to wonder if there is a connection between Rein and his own story. A simple cough heard while listening to a radio concert sends David on the road. He discovers a code within Rein’s manuscript, and the film bounces between the multiple stories and layers.

When David’s fiction crosses over with his own reality, it’s our job as viewers to keep up and distinguish between the two. It’s not always easy as the structure seems designed to confuse. On the other hand, some of the aforementioned twists and turns might as well have neon signs explaining what is about to happen, why it happens and how it is related to what has already happened. Because of this, the film lacks the tension suspense and conflict necessary for this type of story. Storytelling is the focus, but it’s that storytelling that is the film’s downfall. While it’s always fun to watch Kingsley tear into a role, and some of the scenery is drop-dead gorgeous, we do hope the next two chapters of Nesser’s books transfer better to the screen.

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A WAR (Krigen, Denmark, 2015)

February 11, 2016

a war Greetings again from the darkness. Distinguishing between right and wrong has always been pretty easy for me, which probably explains my fascination when a good book or movie presents a decision weighted by moral ambiguity … especially one involving life and death. Such is the case with writer/director Tobias Lindholm’s (A Hijacking, 2012) latest, which has been Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Denmark). It’s tension-filled and overflowing with moments that will make you question yourself and your beliefs.

Three parts make up the whole, and each segment brings its own pressures and is presented with its own camera technique. We see Commander Claus Pederson (Pilou Asbaek) leading his squad of Danish soldiers in their Afghan peace-keeping missions. The film bounces between these boots on the ground and Pederson’s wife (Tuva Novotny) back at home in Denmark trying to maintain a sense of normalcy for their three kids. The final act is a tense courtroom drama that will undoubtedly mess with your head.

Mr. Asbaek (“Game of Thrones” and the upcoming Ben-Hur remake) is spell-binding as Commander Pederson. When a land mine causes the loss of one of his men, Pederson proves that he is no desk-jockey, but rather a leader by example. He has a calm presence that inspires his men, though his fearless approach is quietly questioned by some. His in-the-heat-of-the-moment decision with his squad under fire saves the life of an injured soldier, while also resulting in a tragedy that could affect his military career, his family life, and his freedom.

It’s interesting to see how director Lindholm parallels the struggles of Mr. and Mrs. Pederson … albeit in different worlds. The personal and emotional challenges are everywhere and affect everyone. The 3 kids miss their father and struggle in their own ways with their new world. The wife misses her husband and battles to keep the kids in line. The husband misses his wife and their closeness. He also misses the little joys that come with being a (present) father. The soldiers struggle with their orders to patrol a community that doesn’t seem to want them. Even the community struggles with the constant threat of danger.

Commander Pederson’s fateful decision is the focus of the courtroom drama. The dilemma faced by him and his men is truly a no-win situation. His job was to protect his men while also protecting the citizens of the community. It’s a judgment call in the heat of the moment. Either decision would be right and either decision would be wrong. The issue on trial is so complex that it’s very likely the desired verdict would be split among those in the theatre. When Pederson’s wife tells him “It’s not what you did that matters. It’s what you do now.” We certainly understand her, but do we agree? Is it possible to judge a war crime when lives are in immediate danger?  What would you do? Unless you’ve been in those boots, it’s impossible to know. The best intentions can be eclipsed by a will to live and quest to save those for whom you are responsible. Is lying ever OK, and if so, what is the fallout?  How does it impact you, those you love, and those whose respect you have earned?

This is an exceptionally well made movie with a script that constantly has us questioning our morals. while providing no easy answers.

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