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Thread: New York Film Festival 2019

  1. #31
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    RIDERS OFJUSTICE (Anders Thomas Jensen 2020)



    The logic of revenge

    Riders of Justice is Mads Mikkelsen's fourth film with the Danish director Anders Thomas Jensen and it's been described "as a pitch-black comedy thriller in the early Coen brothers mode." Except the Coen brothers didn't really have such a "mode," they just made Blood Simple and twelve years later made Fargo. Jensen's film entertains, but it doesn't fit so well with either of those early Coen classics as it does with the recent violent (and amusing) Norwegian comedy, In Order of Disappearance (Hans Petter Moland 2016). The tidy series of revenge and gang war murders in the latter, however, is more satisfying, and less disturbing. Riders of Justice has a greater quantity of random violence, confusion, intellectual pretension and chooses to delve freely into the laws of cause and effect and the randomness of events.

    Riders starts when a new bike is stolen belonging to a teenage girl called Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg). She and her mother take the train. A man called Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), a statistical analyst who's just been fired, gives his seat to the girl's mother. The train car explodes in a violent accident and the mother is killed, but Otto survives, as does Mathilde. Far away in Afghanistan (or somewhere) a veteran soldier, Markus (Mads Mikkelsen, with a beard and a look of doom) is recalled from service to take care of Mathilde.

    Otto, being a specialist in probability, already doubts the likelihood that this train crash was an accident, and he at once calls in his two nerdy cohorts Lennart (Lars Brygmann) and Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro), who put their heads together to take apart all the information related to the event. Trained in tracing chains of cause and effect, they don't really think in terms of random events. Since the key witness in the trial of a criminal biker gang just about to happen was killed on the train, they conclude the crash was a carefully orchestrated assassination and Markus' wife and Mathilde's mother collateral damage. They proceed to gather all the data about the gang they can, and both nerdy cohorts, especially Emmenthaler - a giant whale of a man who turns out to be a natural whiz with assembling and firing an automatic weapon ("I like to put things together"), delve far deeper than what the internet and other common sources can provide. They approach Markus with their findings convinced he will be interested in getting back at the people who caused his wife's death. He is. But he tends to do harm closer to home as well, to them, and to the disturbed Mathilde's psyche.

    Nerdy analyses of data and theories about order in a chaos-driven world are unusual material for a comedy thriller. Part of the humor comes from the fact that Lennert, as well as Mathhilde's blue-haired young boyfriend and the Ukrainian Bodashka (Gustav Lindh), an au pair boy (or is he a victimized refugee?), all understand the softer side of man and the need for grief counselling, while Markus has only three tools, beer, cigarettes, and his fists. He is clearly as deeply traumatized by his wife's death as Mathhilde, but he is constitutionally incapable of admitting it, and just keeps punching people out. And yet a kind of camaraderie develops among all the principals, which gives the movie warmth even when it is peppered with random bodies in chaotic ways that in the orderly (the title says so) In Order of Disappearance never allows. I hope I'm not giving away too much to reveal the reassuring news that at film's end, all the main characters are still on hand in one piece for the exchange of Christmas presents. And this outing is just icing on the cake (and there is a cake) of a year where Mads Mikkelsen received global accolades for a virtuoso lead performance as a drunken high school teacher in Thomas Vinterberg's Another Round, which won the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film.

    Riders of Justice/Retfærdighedens ryttere, 116 mins., oddly, came out on DVD in Mexico May 1, 2020 and opened in Danish cinemas Nov. 19, 2020 before its film festival debut at Rotterdam Feb. 1, 2021, then showing at Glasgow, Luxembourg City and Seattle. Its US virtual release date is May 21, 2021; May 14 theatrical release at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas, Berkeley. Landmark's Embarcadero Cinemas, San Francisco. For a detailed discussion of its humor and philosophy, see Digital Mafia Talkies.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-11-2021 at 05:11 PM.

  2. #32
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    SLOW MACHINE (Joe Denardo, Paul Felten 2020)



    Improvisational fun, but the thriller-mystery never arrives

    This rather strange super-micro-indie movie, quite ambitious despite its limited means, is cast as an artistic, inventive mystery-thriller full of vague menace. It primarily revolves around Stephanie (Stephanie Hayes), an actress, who apparently has two identities; or perhaps she is sometimes trying on other roles and accents. (When hiding out from trouble, she puts on a Texan drawl despite having audible Swedish/British roots.) Scenes range over several time periods, jumping back and forth.

    Early on, Stephanie wakes up after a drunken night in the presence of a self-identified special New York police officer who calls himself Gerard (Scott Shepherd), who is interested in her - he remembers seeing her on stage, has rescued her, takes her to breakfast, and insists she ride in his car rather than take the subway, which he thinks dangerous now. He keeps saying he has a woman at home, Lizette, whom we do not meet, and may not exist. This odd, tenuous relationship between Stephanie and Gerard (the movie's greatest mystery) seems the defining one - until it is completely abandoned later for obvious reasons.

    Despite Gerard's warning, the story has more menace from sexually predatory men than from subway bombs, pigs, crazy movie agents, maniacally laughing roommates, or other passing menaces or annoyances. But it is a series of separate vignettes, striking different moods. In her enthusiastic review for Reverse Shot Beatrice Loayza, for whom everything works in this movie, describes it as having an "undercurrent of inanity and black humor" that is "utterly Lynchian." She also finds its atmosphere "feels claustrophobic and empty all at once," which she identifies with the life of "hollow stasis" of Philip Larkin's 1974 poem that is the source of the title. (A phrase from Larkin overtly cited by Stephanie is "banal foreboding.")

    There is meant to be an air of menace lingering throughout, but because of the abrupt shifts of the editing, this does not build so much. The film is trying to do other things, including make us laugh. Sometimes the 16mm camera work and editing are surreal or expressionistic; other times more conventional. The abrupt shifts of visual style can be disconcerting and seem clumsy. On the other hand a lot of the conversation is entertaining, juiced up by the palpable bravado of its improvisation.

    After their awkward relationship has progressed a bit, there is a very dire incident that occurs between Stephanie and Gerard. It is this that leads her to retreat to Upstate New York, where we have seen her in the film's opening scene. If we think back to that scene - though then, we didn't know what we were watching - we may realize that the dialogue of the band working on a record also refers to the theme of performance and authenticity.

    Despite the ambition of a complex structure, which also includes secret societies and illuminati of acting, the film works best on a simple level where performance rises to the occasion in improvisation, as in a jazz solo. Thus there are two moments of storytelling that stand out, straightforward arias during which for a while someone almost mesmerizes us. Stephanie is a friend of Chloe (Chloe Sevigny, more or less as herself): two attractive thespian ladies with long blonde hair. Chloe recounts a very strange audition for a role involving a mysterious few pages of unidentified, but magical, dialogue received by messenger, spoken by a character called "Caterina." Chloe's monologue fascinates, with an air of the magical and dangerous.

    Similarly hypnotic is a tale told by Stephanie years later, making up a story about a boy and a pig named Gerard (that name again) on a bedtime session with her little girl and husband listening over Zoom. The husband and child have suddenly appeared with the passage of time in this new vignette. Stephanie is away for a role, perhaps in Hollywood. This time something ominous does seem coming - in the story - but the little girl just falls asleep and so the Zoom session ends, as does the story - and the picture.

    In between we have seen Stephanie, hiding out after the disastrous incident with Gerard, upstate at a house where a group of musicians are rehearsing for a new record and she puts on the fake Texas accent. After a while, we may have come to feel that everyone is either playacting, practicing, or making up stories. Perhaps that is the only ultimate point. Chloe's audition story, though wonderful, is far-fetched. Another time Stephanie is at an AA meeting - the ultimate time for being oneself, coming clean - and gives a speech, when Gerard appears and calls its authenticity into question, saying she's only there for research.

    What is going on here may be better understood by the fact that the filmmakers have said Jacques Rivette was the guiding spirit behind this movie, with his penchant for menace and conspiracy as well as his interest in secret societies, actors, rehearsing and dramatic stagings. The principals may be either acting or lying for the fun of it.

    Beatrice Loayza describes Slow Machine as "a digressive, tantalizingly off-kilter mystery." She says it's "a fascinating work pitched at the intersection of American independent cinema and the avant-garde theater of Richard Foreman and the Wooster Group." It certainly is the latter, pitched at that intersection, and completed, as she points out, in only two or three weeks. The mystery may tantalize, and be off-kilter, but so much so it has trouble cohering as a mystery.

    "Mystery" is a conservative genre. "Mysterious," on the other hand, can mean anything, and we can grant this is that.

    Slow Machine, 72 mins., debuted at Rotterdam Jan. 23, 2020, showing Paris (Champs Élysées) Jun. 11, St. Petersburg Aug. 20, New York Oct. 8, Vienna Oct. 23, Kylv Oct. 25, 2020. Theatrical release in selected US cities by Grasshopper Jun. 11, 2021. Showing at Metrograph Jun. 4-10.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; Yesterday at 09:23 PM.

  3. #33
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    ANOTHER ROUND (Thmas Vinterberg 2020)


    Only one out of twenty citizen reviews was negative and saw the dangerous direction of this movie:

    JH Newcomer
    2 weeks ago

    I do not understand all of the positive reviews of this movie.

    After watching 'Another Round', my wife and I are seriously depressed, seriously. From the opening minute to the closing credits, this is a sad glorification of drinking to excess. Drinking as a solution to life's challenges and successes.

    We kept waiting for the moral, or lesson but were only left wondering if this behavior is typical of Danes and admirable in Danish society.

    The acting is very good in it's portrayal of the effects of alcohol, I will give it that. But shouldn't that be a red flag to anyone seeing drinking as a positive solution to their woes? I cannot recommend this movie, to anyone for any reason. It is just so sad.
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    Ewa Bacon
    12 hours ago

    Ghastly premise! Middle aged people should use alcohol to brighten their sad lives. Boring teachers are suddenly brilliant: drinking. Failed marriages revive-/briefly before the roof caves in. Tense students need -liquor to pass exams. There is not a funny moment in this mess.

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    Ewa Budz
    a month ago

    I don't know.. I was left disturbed by the final scene everyone seems so positive about. It's like the main characters learnt NOTHING and it seems Martin chose continued inebriation over potentially healing his relationship with his wife. It started off well but the ending lost me and disappointed me.

    3 weeks ago

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    Last edited by Chris Knipp; Yesterday at 05:17 PM.

  4. #34
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area




    Three amiable losers in search of luck

    For the last 17 years or so festival goers have been treated to the uniquely grim, drab, but often powerful fare of the Romanian New Wave - films like Christi Puiu's The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (my first NYFF film) or Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, impressive, relentlessly unfun but pretty gripping cinema. Here's a contrast, a comedy, from a short story by well known Romanian playwright and humorist Ion Luca Caragiale once film-adapted in 1957. Hold your hats, it's a unassuming and lighthearted and need not be taken seriously.

    The subject: three amiable losers win the lottery, but lose the ticket, and spend most of the time trying get it back. It all goes absolutely nowhere, but there's good fun along the way. To show the contrast, this is a bright-colored movie, alternating closeups of the three main actors with elegant middle-distance shots, often symmetrically framed, of cars, storefronts, buildings, making the country look like a quiet, low-keyed, sunny place as seen in an old photograph. It's a cheery, halcyon, but unambitious picture, also a buddy comedy about making do and modest ambitions. It may be rather telling that the car the three drive around in on their search, a repainted Dacia, a proud Romanian product and the country's most lucrative one, has since been bought by Renault. But that was this year, after this movie was made.

    There is not much to tell, really. But it's interesting that these three stars produced the film through their own acting school, which also provided a lot of supporting roles with its students. This formula seems a successful one, since their similar collaborative comedy in 2013, Love Building, was a box office hit that spawned a sequel.

    The lead character, Dinel (Dorian Boguta, who was in The Death of Mr. Lazarescu), is a struggling, rather inept car mechanic who wants to bring back his wife from Italy, where she has gone to earn money but, if fears, gotten involved with a disreputable local. Dinel's best mates are Sile (Dragos Bucur of Police, Adjective), a bearded gambling addict and Pompiliu (Alexandru Papadopol, who's in Toni Erdmann), a more straight-looking guy who might pass for a cop or government employee. Drinking at the local bar, they guess six two-digit numbers for a lottery ticket. It wins. But Dinel carried it in a fanny pack that a bully stole from him. They go looking for the two guys who stole it, and their journey leads them from their provincial town to Bucharest to find them.

    The movie keeps the search interesting, if unspectacular. In the building where the theft happened the man go from door to door, looking for the two visitors, and each apartment is a droll vignette, including drug dealers, prostitutes, a clairvoyant and a gullible child. The main value of all this for us may be a new angle on Romania. It's still a place with an inferiority complex, but this time with a cheerful attitude. Interesting; not life-changing.

    Two Lottery Tickets/Doua lozuri, 86 mins., debuted at Transylvania festival May 2016, also Thessaloniki, Zurich, Vienna, Hong Kong, Minneapolis, and others in 2017. Screened for this review for its May 21, 2021 theatrical and virtual release by Dekanalog in the US.

    (For an original festival review, see Boyd van Hoeij, Hollywood Reporter, Jun. 13, 2016.)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; Yesterday at 08:44 PM.

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