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The Hunt (2012)
(Original Danish language, English subtitles)

***Spoilers avoided***

I had read good reviews of this film at the time, so was pleased to see it being shown by the BBC. Mads Mikkelsen is a Danish actor well-known to international audiences, appearing in such blockbusters as ‘Doctor Strange’, and ‘Casino Royale.’ In this film, his part is that of an ordinary man, a quiet divorcee living in rural Denmark. It is a small community, and Lucas (Mikkelsen) is a teacher at the local nursery school, popular with the children and staff alike.

Some scene-setting shows him out with his male friends; drinking, bonding, and hunting deer. He has problems getting access to his son, as his relationship with his ex-wife is a difficult one. His best friends Theo and Agnes live nearby, and their daughter Klara is a pupil at the school where Lucas works. Klara really likes Lucas. She often gets him to walk her to school, and asks to walk his dog too. Though she is too young to be out alone, Klara also wanders off, waiting around near the local supermarket hoping to see Lucas.

One day at school, Klara gives Lucas a present of a plastic heart, and tries to kiss him. He tells her that this is wrong, but she doesn’t understand. Later, she makes an accusation of sexual misconduct against him to the headmistress, Grethe. After thinking about what the little girl has said, the next day Grethe confronts Lucas. Despite his denials, she suspends him, informs the police, and tells all the parents what has happened too. Things start to get bad for Lucas, very quickly.

What follows is an all-too plausible scenario of the impact of this accusation in a very close-knit community. Events escalate as more children are questioned, and add to the first allegation. Lucas can only watch in disbelief as former friends turn on him, and his everyday life becomes a living nightmare. Mikkelsen is flawless in the role of Lucas. I managed to forget that he was an international star, and to become immersed in the pain and anguish of his character. The other actors are not so well-known outside of Denmark, but this was a positive thing, giving the film real impact that at times made it feel like a documentary. Tiny Annika Wedderkopp is simply amazing in the role of young Klara. She acts with a talent that belies her youth, and projects a range of emotions that also drive along the story. This is an important film about the way society reacts to a specific event, and I was riveted, despite the familiar theme.

Considering the subject matter, nothing sexual is ever shown, though there is some violence between adults. The assertion throughout that children are always believed; that they are not natural liars so any allegation must be considered to be true, leaves the viewer realising that Lucas is in a situation that could happen to anyone anywhere. This is where the film delivers the most impact, and started to remind me of the Salem Witch Trials centuries earlier.

Mikkelsen won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his performance as Lucas, and the film was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the BAFTA and Oscar ceremonies. You will understand why.

Here’s the official trailer.

Guest post: John Reiber

I am delighted to have received another guest post from my blogging friend, John Reiber. Please enjoy his take on these two classic films, and I will provide a link to his site at the end.

Two Cult American Action Films From The 70’s!

The Taking Of Pelham 1-2-3
Take some of the greatest Actors of the 70’s, add some dynamite action sequences…blend with sharp dialogue and a delicious sense of humor and you have two of the great action films of the early 70’s.
Here is the plot summary of “The Taking Of Pelham 1-2-3”: Four armed men hijack a New York City subway train and demand 1 million dollars for the return of the hostages.
Check out the star-studded trailer:

Legendary Actor Walter Matthau plays Lt. Rico Patrone, who oversees the crime unit for the NY Subway. He is willing to admit that their job isn’t that exciting:
“We had a bomb scare in the Bronx yesterday, but it turned out to be a cantaloupe.”
Robert Shaw plays the leader of the hijackers, Mr. Blue. Shaw starred in a number of classic 70’s films, such as “The Sting” and “Jaws”, and he was the “nearly-unstoppable” killer going up against James Bond 007 in “From Russia With Love.”
Martin Balsam is Mr. Green, and Hector Elizondo is Mr. Gray…that’s right, this is the movie where all of the hijackers called each other by colors…something Quentin Tarantino “homaged” effectively in “Reservoir Dogs”.
This tense thriller has sharp-edged dialogue, a great “cat and mouse” battle of wits between Matthau and Shaw, and tight action sequences.
Here is another film from that era with two great Actors going up against each other:

Prime Cut!
Lee Marvin was one of film’s all-time tough guys, and no more so than in this gritty thriller, where he saves a naked Sissy Spacek from the mob…here’s a teaser:

Lee Marvin plays an “Enforcer” for the Mob, who heads to Kansas City to get the money that midwest Mobster Gene Hackman owes the Mob.
Hackman’s a crooked cattle rancher who not only grinds his enemies into sausage, but sells women as sex slaves, and yes, he keeps them penned up…including Sissy Spacek, in her movie debut, who is nude throughout.
Gene Hackman digs into his role as the bad guy, just one year after winning the Academy Award for Best Actor for “The French Connection!”
Lee Marvin had also also previously won the Best Actor Oscar, in 1966 for “Cat Ballou.”

There is a great scene where Marvin and Spacek are chased through a wheat field by a shredder…a well done action sequence.

Both “Pelham” and “Prime Cut” capture a gritty time in America in the early 70’s, a great double bill!

John has his own great site. He showcases exploitation films, Food and Drink, Japanese oddities, and his own travels around the world. And burgers of course. Lots of amazing burgers.

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Train To Busan (2016)
(Original Korean language, English subtitles.)

****Spoilers avoided****

As some of you may recall, I am lucky enough to be on the Amazon review panel, and I can choose from lists of free items, in exchange for a fair review. These range from books to lawn mowers, domestic electrical goods to pet food, but rarely include films on DVD. Fortunately, this film appeared on my list this month, so I was more than happy to get a free copy.

This is a highly-acclaimed Korean horror film about an outbreak of zombies in that country, caused by a leak from a bio-chemical plant. The film begins with the usual scene setting and introduction to some of the characters. A busy dad has to get his young daughter to see his estranged wife in the town of Busan. A college baseball team has to get there too, as well as an assortment of others who all have their reasons. They are going to catch the train, hence the title.

Not long after setting off from the station, it appears that something bad is happening in the capital, Seoul. Riots, violence, and widespread chaos have gripped the city, and our train passengers seem to be the lucky ones, having escaped the horrors there. But one infected woman managed to get on the train too, and that is when the problems begin…

OK, we have seen it all before. ‘The Night of The Living Dead’, ‘Day of The Dead’, ’28 Days Later’, and the TV show ‘The Walking Dead’. Zombies have been done to death (literally) as a genre, haven’t they? Well, maybe not. This Asian take on the subject provides some familiar zombie tropes, but also breaks some of the rules too. Most importantly, the potential victims are stuck on a speeding train. Their only escape from the ever-increasing zombie horde is to keep moving between carriages. This provides some real tension at times, and the claustrophobic setting adds to the terror, in a very satisfying fashion.

And the passengers do not have any weapons. Other than a few baseball bats, courtesy of the college team, they have to defend themselves with their hands, or whatever they can find. So no guns, no axes or knives, not even a handy shovel. We can forget the usual ‘exploding heads’, and long-distance gunshots, as well as the metal implements used to skewer the marauding zombies, or cleave off their heads. And these Korean zombies do not feast on the innards of their victims. They are content to bite and infect, and then move on to the next one.

When the action comes, it is satisfyingly thick and fast, and feels real too. Anyone who has ever been on a long train journey can well-imagine how they might feel, faced with a bunch of fellow passengers who suddenly go crazy. There is some good use of aerial shots, conjuring up visions of fast-running zombie hordes, with nail-biting anticipation thrown in.

But still you are thinking, “I have seen this all before”, and perhaps stifling a yawn?

The film then throws in something fresh. We actually care about the survivors. Their characters are sufficiently developed to make us root for some, and to dislike others of course. Just when you think, “This is going to happen because that girl is nice”, (or something like that) it doesn’t happen at all. Instead, what happens is what you might least expect. At times, this film can bring a real lump to your throat, and has potential to be a tear-jerker too. A ‘Zombie Tear-Jerker’? Hard to believe, I know.

With a cast of Korean actors who most of us will never recognise, the film takes away one of the major flaws of any western film in the genre. We cannot speculate that this person will survive, because of who they are. No square-jawed Hollywood hero that you know will save the day. No demure young starlet who you are convinced will never be sacrificed to a zombie. For me, this is the film’s greatest strength, and goes a long way into making it one of the best zombie films I have seen.

Here’s the official trailer.

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Baskin (2015)

***No real spoilers***

Turkey has produced some wonderful films over the years. ‘Yol’ (1982) from Yilmaz Gulney, was one of the most impressive films of the 1980s, in my opinion. But I wouldn’t instinctively associate Turkish cinema with horror films. At least not until today.

This film begins with a scene-setting segment reminiscent of ‘Reservoir Dogs’. Five Turkish policemen are in a restaurant, about to start a night duty shift in some rural area of that country. Four are older and experienced, the fifth a young new recruit. One of the men is suffering from claustrophobia, and the chief of the group is experiencing something like a migraine. They joke around, tell stories, tease each other, and generally convey the impression of being a solid team, who all know each other very well.

When they leave, they get a request to assist another unit some miles away, in an unfamiliar area. They set off in their police minibus, lights flashing, and send a radio message that they are on their way.

Then everything changes, and not in a good way.

As events unfold, we are left wondering if these are real, or dreams. They might even be hallucinations. As viewers, we can never be 100% sure, and have to remember not to believe what we are seeing. A car crash that might never have happened, encounters that may or may not be real. Pretty soon my head was spinning, as I tried to sort fantasy from reality.

When they arrive at the location, a deserted former police station in some remote woodland setting, thing turn very nasty indeed. They find their colleague’s car abandoned, and enter the building to discover their fate. What happens next is something like Clive Barker meets Blair Witch, with the action mostly seen in the light from the policemen’s torches. And chilling stuff it is. Radios do not work, phones do not work, and the sights inside are sufficient to terrify the most hardened horror film fan.

But then it all changes again. Two of the men are seen in a different cafe. They speak of things metaphysical, and the viewer is left wondering if it is all just a vision, and if what we have just seen even happened. Fast forward to even more horrible events, that may or may not be in the same abandoned police station. Then the action gets quite difficult to handle, and is only for the most dedicated horror fans. Cannibalism, mutilation, torture, demon-like characters, and body-horror abounds. It is an eye-popping (literally) feat of gruesome goings on that will test the endurance of many.

I paused the film and sat back. This was powerful stuff indeed. Even more so, as it provided no neat plot, no real sequence of events, and left me reeling at the visuals. This was surrealism, 21st century style, mixed with witchcraft and demonic practices somehow familiar, but then some some. I had to seriously consider that this was a horror film like no other. I went into it thinking it might be a kind of ‘.Rec’ meets ‘Hellraiser’. But I was wrong. It was something very different, something unique, and not at all like the Turkish offering in the genre that I had been expecting.

This was something special indeed. Wow!

Oh, and there are frogs. Lots of them.

If you think you have seen it all, then watch this. But be warned.

Here’s the official trailer.

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Gone Girl (2014)

***This is going to be a shorter review than usual. Due to the twists and turns in this film, it is very difficult not to include any spoilers for those who haven’t seen it. I have decided not to, so I am writing this with both metaphorical hands tied behind my back.***

David Fincher is an accomplished film-maker. Anyone who enjoyed ‘Se7en’, ‘Fight Club’, and many of his other films will confirm that. So when he releases a new crime thriller, you can bet I will want to watch it. It took me a while, but I finally did get to see it, just last night. I have never read the book it is based on, but the story is compelling, just from a synopsis. A young professional couple, leading a prosperous and happy life in New York City. The recession hits, and jobs are lost. Life begins to look not quite as rosy. Then news comes from Missouri, the man’s home state. His mother is dying, and needs him to come home and help. They sell up, and relocate to small town mid-west. Using what little money they have left, he and his twin sister buy a bar in the town, and go about their lives as best they can. The wife is left at the new home, regretting the change in fortunes, but determined to rediscover their happiness.

Then one day, he comes home from work, and his wife has gone. The circumstances look suspicious, and it doesn’t take the local police too long to start to focus on the husband as a suspect; helped by a series of clues and some implicating evidence. To make matters worse, his wife’s family are influential writers, and they arrive to help galvanize the local community into a search for their missing daughter. They have always resented the small-town boy who married their brilliant, perfect daughter, and make no secret of their scorn for him. The media gets involved, and soon his life is in the spotlight, and his every move dogged by either the police or the press.

That’s about it. To tell much more about the story would undoubtedly spoil your enjoyment. But I won’t leave it there, as you have to know what I thought of it, don’t you? Well, I thought it was very good indeed. Fincher delivers in his usual style, and the plot keeps us more-or-less guessing right until the very unusual (and therefore satisfying) ending. Rosamund Pike is outstanding in the role of Amy, the ‘Gone Girl’ of the title. She has to play the character as two very different people, and she does so with aplomb. Carrie Coon as the twin sister Margo makes her supporting role into that of a co-star, and is completely convincing at all times. Then there is the weary detective, Rhonda. She won’t believe all the hype, and sticks to what her instinct tells her. Kim Dickens enlarges a character we have seen so many times before, and changes it into something we haven’t really seen before.

This is a film about excellent acting from women. They steal all the scenes, and drive the action too. Mind you, given that the lead male character, Nick, is played by the wooden and generally unwatchable Ben Affleck, that wasn’t too hard a task. I fail to see why he is ever cast in a film, when there are so may better actors around who can actually act. (OK, Affleck fans, do your worst…)

This film is all about twists too. Just when you thought you had worked it out, it turns on its head and leaves you guessing again. Who? What? Why? How did that happen? I confess I did see the ‘big reveal’ coming, but it took a while and I enjoyed the ride, even when I was proved right. This is grown-up film making, shot in luxurious wide screen, and full of atmosphere. Even the bit-part players are just right, from the creepy ex-boyfriend, to the white trash neighbour. It confirms what I already knew. David Fincher knows how to craft an enjoyable and often thrilling film, and he did very well to cast Rosamund Pike too.

Shame about Affleck though.

Here’s a trailer.

Film and Cinema: Another new article

I am happy to report that my latest article for another site has been published on Curnblog.
This is my twentieth article on there, and concerns the evolution of films looking at events during the American Civil War. I appreciate that this is something of a niche interest, but I would be pleased if you could take a little time to follow the link, and read it.

For any fan of film, especially those of you who like to dig a little deeper, or give the subject more thought, I can recommend this excellent site. It is run by Australian James Curnow, who has studied the subject in great detail, to an academic level. As well as his own excellent writing, he opens up the site for articles submitted by writers from all over the world.

If you have any comments to add, please make them on that site.

Thanks in advance, Pete.

The Blue and The Grey: The American Civil War on film

Just been watching..(27)

Sicario (2015)

***Plot spoilers avoided***

Released to very positive reviews, this film from flavour-of-the-month director Denis Villeneuve caught my attention at the time. I waited until it was cheap to buy on DVD and bought a copy. I have just got around to watching it today, so here are my thoughts, fresh from the packet.

From the very start, the opening is action-packed, beautifully shot, and doesn’t waste time on preambles or scene setting. I like that. FBI action-woman Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) leads a team of SWAT officers and FBI agents on a raid, taking on Mexican criminals operating in Arizona. She’s at the top of her game, backed up by her steadfast and reliable partner Reggie. (Daniel Kaluuya) So far, so good, and a very promising beginning.

Plucky Kate comes to the attention of a multi-agency team tasked with taking the war against drugs into Mexico itself. She and her partner are asked to volunteer to join this team, and the by-the-book agent leaps at the chance. This mixed bag of US Marshals, Sheriffs, spooky agents and special forces troops are set on a mission to extricate a gang boss from Juarez, and need the FBI to join in too.
Exciting and often tense scenes follow, with Kate becoming rapidly concerned about the long-term aims of the team, and their flouting of due process, and rules of engagement. She is especially worried about the carefree and smooth talking Matt Graver, (Josh Brolin, laconic as usual) and his shadowy right-hand man Alejandro.(Benicio del Toro on his usual top form)

Things increase in tension, as the team decides to operate clandestinely in Mexico, outside of their actual jurisdiction. The action moves up a gear, and we are soon left wondering who is really a friend, and if the enemy really is the enemy. Action sequences are tightly managed, with the usual crop of stealth helicopters, CCTV surveillance, satellite tracking, night-vision goggles, heat-seeking cameras, and a lot of looking at maps. On the plus side, they are also lovingly filmed, and feel very believable. But straight-talking Kate remains worried about her colleagues, as well as their methods, and she never feels trusted, or really treated as part of the team.

I don’t sound that excited, do I? Unlike many that gave this rave reviews, perhaps I have seen too many films in my long life. Or maybe too many similar films.
US crime agencies taking on the drug lords.
Seen it.
A potentially renegade agent leading an unorthodox team on an operation that may or may not be sanctioned.
Seen it.
A straight-laced lead female agent who is not comfortable with her new job, lives alone after a divorce, is stressed out, not looking after herself, and worrying her partner.
Seen it.
Sneering Mexican drug lords living in mansions and dealing out brutal punishments.
Seen it.
Corrupt Mexican and American police officers, seduced by the huge payments available.
Seen it.
A loyal and devoted partner who is worried about the woman, and will stick by her, whatever happens.
Seen it.
A suggestion that those fighting crime have to be as ruthless and cruel as those committing it.
Seen it.

Blunt received high praise for her role, and she plays it well enough. It may not be her fault that we have seen the same thing so many times before. Brolin seems to insist upon playing Brolin, whatever the part, and the villains are telegraphed and typecast as such. Locations feel authentic and suitably gritty, but nothing anyone has not seen already, dozens of times.

So what’s good about it? Is it worth a couple of hours of your time?

Yes, it is. For one thing, the cinematography is superb. This film was nominated for an Oscar for it, and you can see why, all the time. It is a film-maker’s film, and that separates it from so many seen previously. And then there is the incomparable Benicio del Toro. I confess to always liking him, even when he is playing much the same part, something he does all the time. He is heavier in this film, and looks tired, worn out by his quest for revenge, and his fight for justice against the gangsters. Alejandro doesn’t play by any rules, and it is always a great scene, when he is in it.

If you have never seen a film like this before, you will undoubtedly enjoy it. If like me, you have, then look for the good bits, admire the way it is shot, and keep watching Benicio. There is a sequel on the way too. Let’s hope del Toro is in it.

Here’s a trailer.