a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Posts tagged ‘German’

Oscar Nominee”Land of Mine” One of the Best Films I’ve Ever Seen

615One of the greatest pleasures of being a film critic is stumbling upon a work of pure cinematic art that will  rock your world and stay with you forever. I just had that experience with the Danish Oscar Nominated film “Land of Mine” which I feel is one of the best films I’ve ever seen IN MY LIFE. And it was totally unexpected, so it had tremendous shock value. Including suspense that didn’t let up, once it started. And I LOVE suspense. It’s so hard to create a real thriller diller, and I can’t tell you how sick and tired I am of World War II movies. But “Land of Mine” blew all those preconceptions about war movies totally out of my head. I couldn’t stop watching it. I was on the edge of my seat, to the point where I felt like was STANDING, perched mid-air agog at all the atrocities of war crimes that were being perpetrated on this group of young German POWs, aged 15-18.

The premise is staggering, and it’s also true. That the Germans planted something like two million land mines on the beaches of Denmark, where they thought the alllied forces were going to land first. They never did, thank god! Or they would’ve been blown to smithereens, as many of these hapless young boys, and others, are during the course of this brutal, but brilliant film.

The Danish director/writer Martin  Zandvliet is new to me, but his talent is up there with the greats. And so is his great co-collaborator Camilla Hjelm Knudsen, DFF, who is his wife and cinematographer. “Land of Mine is filmed on a beautiful, pristine beach, where there is no civilization in evidence to spoil the view, except the roiling blue of the Atlantic Ocean.

Danish actor Roland Moller is superbly frightening as one of the most sadistic villains the screen has ever seen.He is constantly yelling at his captives in both guttural Danish and German. Telling the boy soldiers that this fate is just what they deserve, being Germans. He never lets up and he never feeds them.

Zandvliet is smart enough, as a screenwriter, however, to give him multiple dimensions. His Captain Rasmussen is simply a solider doing this dreadful duty as part of his job. And while he loves being a soldier.  we come to see he hates the horrifying assignment he is tasked with.

He has to make these teenage German P.O.W.s (This is right after WWII. ends), clear the nearly two million land-mines that are on that beautiful, wind-blown beach. And the boys, of course, do not know how to do this at all. They have no training whatsoever, and are completely lost in every imaginable way possible. Some of them are crying for their mothers

And yes, many of them are blown to bits. The lucky ones die. And Rusmussen keeps cruelly telling them, that whenan they clear the beaches of these deadly land mines, they will be sent home. They are more apt to be sent to heaven.

But Zandvliet plays his cards very close to his vest, and never lets us, the audience, know WHEN it’s coming, though we know WHAT’s coming. And he surprises us at every turn.And of course, it’s more horrifying than you could possibly imagine.

The boys start off as faceless, pale, ghostly figures, seemingly dead already, but as they film goes on several of them begins to emerge as three-dimensional characters as Rasmussen does. There are two twin brothers who are heartbreakingly protective and dependent on each other.They are both astonishingly first time actors, Emil and Oskar Belton.

A very complex wise-guy who looks almost Jewish is played grippingly by Joel Basman. There is one compelling scene where he is constantly being slapped in the face. And astonishingly he starts off laughing, and he keeps being hit and hit and hit again, until well, he is crying. Reduced to tears by the brutality of this violent assault. And dirty and foul-mouthed and repulsive as his behavior is, Basman just kills you, If this was an American film, he’d be nominated as Best Supporting Actor.

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One of the two doomed twins.Stillfoto fra filmen Under Sandet/Land of Mines. Foto: Henrik Petit

It’s wonderful that this horrifically violent but beautiful film has managed with very little fan-fanfare to land an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film in a very crowded, competitive year, it is hardly being talked up at all. It’s up to audiences to discover it and I’m sure they will. They never will be able to forget it. “Land of Mine” is one of the greats.

#Land of Mine, #German, #Best Foreign Film Nominee, #War Film, # Boy Soldiers, #Martin Zandvliet,# Twins

“Marie’s Mind for Murder,” a Mommy & a Hottie German Detective Duo

I really did enjoy viewing ALLLL ten episodes of the German Crime series “Marie’s Mind for Murder” which is now being brought to our shores by the inimitable MHz Networks. It’s refreshing in that we see the main character of Marie Brand is a very spunky and sparky Mom. Played by Meriele Millowitsch, who was born in 1955, she is dynamically paired with the hot young German star, Hinnerk Schoenmann, who is decades younger than she is.

The December/May age difference gives the series its’ pzazz. Shot as a series of TV movies for German television over a number of years, the first set available here has ten 90 minute episodes. Police procedurals all. But with the twist that Marie Brand (as the series is known in Germany) is a semi-dowdy, but in shape, intelligent policewoman who can write simultaneously with both hands. She is none to happy at first to return to police work and be paired with air-head ladies. man, Jurgen Simmel (Schoenmann), who she only refers to quite formally as Herr Simmel.

The strawberry-blond hunk is treated as something of a boy-toy, whose manly physique is given as much exposure, sometimes more, than most ingenues are called upon to do, in Series TV. In fact, for those who MUST know, he goes full-frontal in Episode 3 “Marie and the Night of Retribution” getting out of a large marble bath-tub, where he is romancing one of the episode’s hot chick suspects, who is also nude in the bath with him. We then are treated to him crossing to pick up his clothes on the far side of the bathroom, so coming and going Hinnerk Schoenmann cuts a fine figure. And he’s a karate expert, too.

He’s also very funny, and the back and forth between the two detectives is quirky and entertaining and keeps the viewer interested, if things get bogged down plot-wise. They are decidedly an odd couple, the oddest I’ve ever seen as a cop duo. And the singularity of a mature, smart woman paired with the less-than-intellectual younger man is something we’d never see dealt with States-side on TV. And may never. But “Marie’s Mind for Murder” is certainly worth seeking out and checking out. Because the sexual role reversal makes everything quite refreshing.

As the series wore on, it got better and better and really hit its’ stride with the last two episodes, “Marie & the Wrong Woman” and “Marie & the Song of Love & Death.” And there are more to come.

It’s still in production in Cologne, Germany, the most uninteresting locale imaginable. But the duet of detectives Brand und Simmel keep things hopping and popping.
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German”Crime Stories”(Verbrechen) Grisly but Good

VervbrechenCrime Stories 1“Verbrechen” is German for “Crime Stories”. Famous lawyer turned author Ferdinand von Shirach has penned the short stories of the real life crime cases he was prosecuted to great acclaim in Germany and now they exist as a hit TV series. And a six-episode DVD set of three discs by MHz.

You have to be in a really blood-thirsty mood to enjoy these six grisly, but good episodes, which vary wildly in quality.

Josef Bierbichler plays Friedrich Lionhardt with a stoicism that makes his French counterpart Inspector Maigret seem absolutely flamboyant in comparison. Bierbichler is a focused mountain of a man best known in the US for his role as the sadistic Steward in Michael Hanneke’s frightening thriller “The White Ribbon.” With a voice like thunder, when roused, his intelligent, omniscient eyes see through all comers.

I was really gripped by Episode 1, wherein a mild-mannered husband Friedrich (everybody seems to be named Friedrich in this series)Fahner finally turns on his vicious wife Ingrid played with memorable relish by Annette Paulman, and murders her with his gardening tools. Based on, as I noted, a true story, you totally root for Friedrich to get off.

This is a neat reversal of the battered wife story, and in this case,it’s the long-suffering husband who is constantly brow-beaten, insulted and humiliated by his overbearing, vulgar wife. They are first shown as a deliriously in love young couple. As newlyweds, there seems nary a cloud on the horizon, and Ingrid is charming and sexy as a young girl.

But over the years, she has turned into a harridan he hardly recognizes, and can barely stand. Now 60, Friedrich maintains he has married her. He’s her husband and feels he cannot violate his marriage vows to her. So he kills her. German logic.

And Friedrich Leonhardt( Von Shirach’s alter ego) enters the scene as Friedrich Fahner’s defense lawyer determined to get him off. For as he states over and over, “a lawyer does not always want to know what really happened.” It is his job to get his clients freed and he pursues this goal with a single-minded intensity that powers each 44 minutes episode. It’s not a whodunit at all, but the suspense is always “Will Leonhardt prevail and get his client off?” which is an interesting twist in this overworked genre. A character describes Leonhardt as “the brakes on the carts on justice.”

Leonhardt doesn’t feel he has to like or even understand his clients, which are as varied as Germany is today.

Ripped from the headlines, “Crime Stories” when it works is riveting. I also particularly liked Episode 3 where Phillip Von Nordicke, a young student played with a burning intensity by Vladimir Burlakov, kills, blinds, and dismembers sheep. Stabbing each “victim” 18 times in a signature way that the local Polizei immediately know it’s him. But can you imprison someone for simply killing sheep argues Leonhardt. Then a young girl goes missing and of course, the young Phillip is the lost likely suspect. So in jail he stays, until Leonhardt enters the scene.

Some episodes don’t work at all and are merely confusing like Episode 2 “Tanaka’s Bowl.” But when it works, it really really works and loving crime stories and murder mysteries and film noir as you know I do, these German ones are a dark treat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Oscar ~ “Fault” Shailene Woodley’s triumph or Schadenfreude?

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22 year old star Shailene Woodley’s Oscar chances are on the rise because her new film “The Fault In Our Stars, “is breaking box-office records, and changing the face of the Best Actress Oscar race even this early in the pre predicting season.

Woodley’s searing portrayal of a teen dying of cancer shocked me at the range of pain and power this young woman exhibited in a sad love story of her star-crossed affection for a another dying teen, also a cancer patient, played effectively by Ansel Elgort..

It was the surprise #1 hit at the box-office this week, upending all kinds of expectations and predictions. This micro-budgeted tale of two seriously ill teens has made an incredible impact with movie goers, most of them young females or YA as the industry likes to call ’em, Young Adults.

And Oscar NEVER ignores this kind of vote. The public’s. They vote with their ticket-buying dollars. And they are buying tickets en masse to see this five handkerchief weepie that is leaving audiences in tears around the country and around the globe.

And they are liking the sadness of the doomed duo. They are LIKING crying their way home. This movie about death, death, and more death, as unlikely a topic as that seems, is making them FEEL. Something, one wonders, if they’ve ever thought about before. The Germans have a word for it Schadenfreude.

I sometimes think all great love stories have to have one or two of the young lovers dying. See “Romeo and Juliet.” Who can forget the surprising B.O. success “A Love Story” had in its’ day?

It was a best-seller, and propelled non-actress/model Ali McGraw on to the cover of Time Magazine. And to an Oscar Nomination. “Love is never having to say you’re sorry” was the trademark catch phrase that was plastered everywhere that year. The public went in droves to see Ali McGraw die. “Fault” is like that. It’s a neglected genre. But “Fault in Our Stars” has put all this weepiness front and center once again.

And Shailene Woodley’s amazing, dynamic turn as the dying teen is powering this film into the stratosphere of Oscar consideratioiin. By that I mean, a serious film, about death, no less, and cancer, moreover, with a young, a very young actress who confounds expectations, is just the kind of performance the Academy loves to honor. Jennifer Lawrence anyone?

David Cronenberg’s “Map to the Stars” won acclaim at Cannes for the performance of Julianne Moore as an aging Hollywood actress trying to hang on to her youth.I thought it was being rushed out in June, but no.  It’s now opening in the fall, when the season REALLY gets under way. Which is good, meaning the producers behind it, think it has Awards chances.

Out of the Cannes gate, Moore was a clear front-runner. She’s had four nominations and never won. Ditto Amy Adams, who is coming up this fall with FIVE nominations and no win, but she has Harvey Weinstein and his mega-hype-machine in “Big Eyes.” I thought the Best Actress Oscar was definitely Adams’ to lose.

But now with “The Fault in Our Stars” powering to #1 and Shailene Woodley on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine this week, looking almost unrecognizably glamourous, I think she’s here in the Oscar conversation to stay. And the movie, based on a popular YA novel, may have equally surprising “legs”as they say, and stick around to really harass Julienne Moore and Amy Adams come the fall.

I mean, it’s only June and already the Best Actress race is red-hot. If Shailene did manage to win this one, I think she supplants Jennifer Lawrence as the youngest winner of Best Actress in Oscar history.

Or is it just too early to think like this? No. It’s never too early to think about Oscar. Or why are you reading this article?

“The Book Thief” Definitely Oscar Worthy!

Just saw a truly wonderful late entry into the Oscar Race, Fox 2000’s “The Book Thief”, a small “little” film that is anything but. “The Book Thief” creeps up and steals your heart away and leaves you devastated.  Oscar, are you watching?

It’s World War II and an unseen narrator eerily sets the scene.  Who this narrator is slowly to be revealed is one of the main mysteries of “The Book Thief.” Is it Geoffrey Rush? The film’s leading man. Or just who is it?

Of course, this immediately sets up the greatest of film dynamics which is  the audience wanting to know “What’s going to happen next?” And with “The Book Thief” that suspense is maintained literally til the last frame. Which is really an achievement.

We’re in a familiar setting, Germany during WW II. In fact, it seems to resemble very closely another German back-dropped war drama “The Reader” which won Kate Winslet one Oscar and two Golden Globes.

“The Book Thief”could land a slew of Oscar nods, too. Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Geoffrey Rush) and Best Supporting Actress (Emily Watson) Best Adapted Screenplay and maybe more.

It depends on just how wily Fox 2000, sometimes referred to as Big Fox, plays its’ Oscar campaign from here on out. Fox Searchlight, of course, has a sweeping winner with “12 Years a Slave”. But “The Book Thief” should gets its’ due also.

IF enough Academy members get to see it in time to nominate it.

Geoffrey Rush gives one of his most beguiling and sweetly sympathetic performances as the adoptive father of the titular heroine, the child Leisl played by newcomer Sophie Nelisse, who is the Book Thief.

And Emily Watson gives hands down one of the best performances of her career as Leisl’s turbulent adoptive mother who is practising tough love with the child for most of the movie.

So familiar is this setting,i half-expected Kate Winslet to bicycle around the corner in braids any second. The aqua hue of the light is almost the same color of the lighting in “The Reader.”

The Nazi book burning that really sets the film in motion is frightening, and Leisl, who loves books so passionately that she begins to steal them, is traumatized by this event that she witnesses as a choir member of the Hitler Youth singing “Deustcheland Uber Alles.”

She even is so bold to steal one of the still smoldering books from the embers of the pile in one of the film’s pivotal moments. It’s still burning and as her kindly doting adoptive father Geoffrey Rush hurries her home, she starts coughing from the smoke that is coming from the still burning book hidden under her coat.

Rush takes the book from her then hides it under his coat. And more I cannot reveal, because the plot involves and tricks you with its’ many twists and turns that are its’ strengths. As well as the superb performances of Sophie Nelisse, Rush and Watson.

Don’t read any reviews that might spoil the delight of experiencing “The Book Thief” for the first time, not knowing what was going to happen. Just know that it COULD be nominated for Best Picture, though nobody is predicting it for the moment. BUT I AM.

Germany, the Halocaust, the Nazis, WWII, Academy Award Winner Geoffrey Rush, an adorable little girl heroine, it’s catkip to Oscar Voters, and to me as well. See it!

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Is Diane Kruger saying “Hello” to Oscar as She Kills in “Farewell, My Queen”?

German actress Diane Kruger absolutely KILLS as the doomed Monarch in “Farewell, My Queen” the hot new LESBIAN re-thinking of Marie Antoinette’s final days as the French revolution was about to engulf her. Here’s a wonderful interview with Diane and I hope that although she’s acting in French, the Academy will consider her for a nomination for Best Actress(she’s playing the title role, after all) or Supporting, since her handmaiden Lea Seydoux is really the central character of the film Seydoux, the gamine whom Owen Wilson ends up with at the end of “Midnight in Paris” also shines, but it is Kruger who speaks perfect English with an American accent yet. And whom the Academy is familiar with.

I think Best Actress is a wide-open category at this point. If the French get the ball rolling and choose it as their Best Foreign language selection, it could very well get a slew of nominations. For sure, Best Costumes. And Diane is the one who is most familiar to the Academy since she ALMOST got nominated for “Inglorious Basterds” playing a glamourous German actress/spy. She had the misfortune of splitting that film’s Supporting Actress vote with Melanie Laurent, who was also breaking out in that film as Shoshanna, the Jewish freedom fighter. Will she? Won’t she? We shall see…

In any case, it’s the perfect antidote to the summer overload of ComicBookBlockbusterSuperHero movies. I can barely tell them apart. I thought “The Avengers” was just plain BAD, and was sorry I coughed up the dough to see it. I felt robbed. And THAT crap makes $600 milllion?

But “Farewell, My Queen” is the only really wonderful Oscar-y movie that’s Opening in this Summer of Hell, where the temperatures in New York are hitting 100 degrees Every. Single. Day.

Oscar Gets “Amour”

Well, this certainly is news! Austria has decided that “Amour” is going to be its’ official submission to the Best Foreign Film race this coming Oscar season. Since it’s by a German director, who I LOVE, Michael Haneke, and maybe it’s German-Austrian financed although the two octogenarian leads,  who are winning raves, act in French, this makes “Amour” kosher. And definitely eligible for a Best Foreign Film nomination and perhaps win.

This is despite Jeffrey Wells at www.hollywood-elsewhere.com not liking a whole hell of a lot.

And to top that off Sony Pictures Classics is deciding to open it in Dec. RIGHT in the heat of the Oscar season. I know, I know. It’s freezing in New York at that time of year, and this is hardly your Christmas-y picture. But SPC, as I’ll now call them, are throwing down the Oscar gauntlet(is that a mixed metaphor?) going full court press with this one.

Although Michael Haneke only gives interviews in German, and the two stars are yes-for-real are in their 80s. But have Oscar buzz will travel. So we’ll be seeing them, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva stateside around the holidays. Or at least I will be seeing them, I hope, in their press tour.

I love SPC’s taste in movies. Last year,  they had “Midnight in Paris” and while it got a bunch of nominations in many categories and won in Best Original Screenplay, they did not move any of the many wonderful performers in that movie from the sidelines to center stage. Like for instance, Corey Stoll as Hemingway, Marion Cotillard as the Muse of many centuries and Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein. Not to mention Owen Wilson’s, astonishing lead performance and Rachel McAdams as his blonde bitch of a fiancée.

Although Owen did get a Golden Globe nomination in the Musical or Comedy category, he lost out to Jean Dujardin for “The Artist.” And who could’ve stopped THAT express train once it left the station???

I can’t stand Wes Anderson movies, so I only go to them, if dragged so I haven’t seen “Moonrise Kingdom” yet. But I guess I’ll have to at some point. I hate when straight men try to do camp. Which is basically what his great “Style” is. Stolen from the Homosexual Handbook. I ought to know. I helped write it back in The Day.

And tomorrow I’m actually going to see “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”  I’ll let you know if I think all the who-ha at Sundance and Cannes was justified.

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