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Monday, March 8, 2010

New acquisitions for my movie collection:

Odd Horten (Baard Owe) is a man with a lot of time on his hands. The character at the center of Bent Hamer’s wry social comedy, O'HORTEN, is a former train driver who struggles to adjust to the freedoms of retirement. Hamer carefully outlines the rituals from Horten’s working life: recurring visits to a local tobacconist to fuel his pipe-smoking habit, a pre-work routine in his Oslo apartment, and visits to a small-town hotel where the kindly female owner treats him with considerable fondness. Most of Hamer’s movie takes place in the snow-covered Oslo night, where Horten encounters a series of erratic characters as his own behavior slides into nonconformity. The director fills his movie with little eccentricities that are rarely explained but often provoke amusement, such as the time Horten emerges from a late-night dip in a swimming pool, clad in a pair of red high-heeled shoes. O'HORTEN is a wonderfully amusing piece, with Hamer demonstrating his innate ability for offbeat comedy. The strange atmosphere and long silences are reminiscent of the work of Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki, and the oddball denizens of the Oslo night are similar to the way-out characters of Jim Jarmusch’s MYSTERY TRAIN. Hamer’s movie is a compelling exploration of a loner who has had all the familiarity stripped from his world, and flounders as he seeks to find meaning in a life shorn of routine. Owe’s deadpan delivery is flawless, and his restrained performance offers few clues as to what is going on in Horten’s head, requiring the audience to ponder the motivations for his increasingly peculiar behavior. The mixture of humor and poignancy are kept in a delicate balance throughout, with Hamer gently steering his small cast through a film full of richly rewarding subject matter.

In this breathtaking film from renowned Swedish director Jan Troell, a woman experiences an artistic awakening after being introduced to photography. Based on real-life events, the story opens at the start of the 20th century and centers around Finnish housewife Maria Larrson (Maria Heiskanen). Maria spends her days struggling to care for her large brood of children and trying to manage her abusive, alcoholic husband, Sigge (Mikael Persbrandt). Sigge is a dockworker, and when he isn’t dabbling in Socialist politics, he’s parading around town with various women, then returning home in a drunken stupor to beat Maria and the children. Maria suffers many harsh indignities, but her world is changed forever the day she tries to pawn an old camera she won in a lottery. The owner of the camera shop is a kindly gentleman named Sebastian (Jesper Christensen), and instead of buying the camera, he insists Maria try it first. Maria takes his advice, and the effect is instantaneous: she is hooked on the power of the pictures. She begins to take portraits of the townspeople and the harsh world around her, and her newfound talent suddenly infuses her with confidence and awakens an inner passion. Sigge rails against this bold new change in her and becomes more abusive, threatening to kill her and destroy her camera. But Maria defies him and continues to take pictures, eventually developing an intimate friendship with Sebastian. Troell does a magnificent job re-creating the time period, and while many of the film’s images are rather harsh and painful to take in, they are also fascinating and beautiful in their realism. Persbrandt delivers an excellent performance, and Heiskanen is phenomenal as the unstoppable Maria. Despite the bleak world the characters inhabit, the film is ultimately a moving affirmation of life’s beauty and the strength of the human spirit.

The Hurt Locker is a riveting, suspenseful portrait of the courage under fire of the military’s most unrecognized heroes: the technicians of the bomb squad, who volunteer to challenge the odds and save lives in one of the world’s most dangerous places. Three members of the Army’s elite Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) squad battle insurgents and each other as they seek out and disarm a wave of roadside bombs on the streets of Baghdad -- in order to try and make the city a safer place for Iraqis and Americans alike. Their mission is clear - protect and save - but it’s anything but easy, for the margin of error on a war-zone bomb is zero. A thrilling and heart-thumping look at the effects of combat and danger on the human psyche, The Hurt Lockeris based on the first-hand observations of journalist and screenwriter Mark Boal, who was embedded with a special bomb unit in Iraq.

Visionary director Kathryn Bigelow brings together groundbreaking realistic action and intimate human drama in a gripping film starring Jeremy Renner (Dahmer, The Assassination of Jesse James), Anthony Mackie (Half Nelson, We Are Marshall) and Brian Geraghty (We Are Marshall, Jarhead), with cameo appearances by Ralph Fiennes (The Reader), David Morse (“John Adams”), Evangeline Lilly (“Lost”) and Guy Pearce (Memento). The Hurt Locker is produced by Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Greg Shapiro and Nicolas Chartier. The screenplay is written by Mark Boal (In the Valley of Elah, story). Barry Ackroyd, BSC (United 93, The Wind That Shakes the Barley) is director of photography. Production designer is Karl Juliusson (K19: The Widowmaker, Breaking the Waves). Editors are Bob Murawski (Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3) and Chris Innis. Costume designer is George Little (Jarhead, Crimson Tide). Music is by Academy Award Nominee Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders (3:10 to Yuma), and sound design by Academy Award Nominee Paul N.J. Ottosson (Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3).

In the summer of 2004, Sergeant J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) of Bravo Company are at the volatile center of the war, part of a small counterforce specifically trained to handle the homemade bombs, or Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), that account for more than half of American hostile deaths and have killed thousands of Iraqis. A high-pressure, high-stakes assignment, the job leaves no room for mistakes, as they learn when they lose their team leader on a mission.

When Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) takes over the team, Sanborn and Eldridge are shocked by what seems like his reckless disregard for military protocol and basic safety measures. And yet, in the fog of war, appearances are never reliable for long. Is James really a swaggering cowboy who lives for peak experiences and the moments when the margin of error is zero or is he a consummate professional who has honed his esoteric craft to high-wire precision? As the fiery chaos of Baghdad swirls around them, the men struggle to understand and contain their new leader long enough for them to make it home. They have only 38 days left in their tour of Iraq, but with each new mission comes another deadly encounter, and as James blurs the line between bravery and bravado, it seems only a matter of time before disaster will strike.

With a visual and emotional intensity that makes audiences feel like they have been transported to Iraq¹s dizzying, 24-hour turmoil, The Hurt Locker is both a tense portrayal of real-life sacrifice and heroism, and a probing look at the soul-numbing rigors and potent allure of the modern battlefield.

Evoking Homer's "The Odyssey," but in fact more closely resembling a contempo Candide yarn, Greek-French vet Costa-Gavras' "Eden Is West" is a playful modern fairy tale about a serious subject: illegal immigration into the "paradise" of West Europe.

One of a boatload of illegals from an unnamed country -- Albania could fit the bill -- Elias (Italian thesp Riccardo Scamarcio, "The Best of Youth") jumps ship when the Greek coast guard approaches and wakes up on a Mediterranean hotel's nudist beach, where he first strips off and then steals a bellhop's uniform. It's the first of a series of incidents in the vignettish movie in which, trying to fit in while avoiding the authorities, Elias is either befriended or dumped by various citizens of the European Union.

Speaking no language other than his own (unidentified) tongue, Elias carries bags, is mistaken for a hotel plumber, gets fondled by a gay security officer and is roped into a variety act by German magician Nick Nickelby (Ulrich Tukur), who tells him to look him up in Paris. After a romp between the sheets with lonesome Christina (Juliane Koehler), a tourist from Hamburg, Elias sets off at the pic's midway point to somehow make his way to France's City of Light.

After its elaborate game of hide-and-deceit within the vast grounds of a resort hotel, the pic opens up into a road movie peppered with lightly comic Euro characters, seen from the p.o.v. of an outsider. After hitching a ride to Italy with a rich, constantly bickering Greek couple (Ieroklis Mihailidis, Annie Loulou) and then getting a lift from two weird German truckers (Antoine Monot, Florian Martens), Elias is momentarily stranded at the junction of roads to either Paris or Hamburg.

The ingenuous Elias has to choose between his heart (Christina in Germany) or career (Nick in France), and chooses the latter, spending time as an illegal in a provincial factory before arriving in his chosen Eden. It's interesting to speculate what other kind of movie could have developed if he'd chosen Hamburg instead.

Costa-Gavras is on record as saying he consciously intended a lighter-hearted take on a problem that's more often treated with lugubrious tragedy.