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- and at the same time would recommend to anybody.
But, what most of them have in common, is that they give the viewer something to think about in relation to their own lives, future, options, in terms of what is important, motivating and necessary in life and society.
Not your usual thriller/mystery flick
I'm not going to write a summary of the movie like 9/10 other reviews starts of with - all of you probably know the storyline already.
What stands out for me about this movie, is the small things/details.
In the beginning, we get to know Esther as an articulate, intelligent (how she expresses her paintings, how fast she's able to learn sign language etc.) and open-minded girl. But, the more we get to know her, the more we find out just how cold she is, and how she's able to use these skills into manipulating others around her.
The first sign, is when she kills the bird Daniel shoots, with a rock. The right thing to do, to put an animal that's going to die anyway, out of its misery. I think most of us can agree on this. But, the way she just coldly crush the bird, and the over-the-top blood-splattering- everywhere, is very effective. Both Daniel and Max here find out, that this girl is not your usual 9-year old stepsister. Afterwards - through several scenes - we find out the same.
As earlier mentioned, what I really enjoyed about this movie, was the details. How fast she learns sign language. Only to find out, that the reason behind this was to faster becoming friends with Max, so she for instance could exploit her skills of lip reading. She also uses her, into helping her covering up a murder. This isn't only based on force, but also using Max's feelings about her "sweet" sister: "Here's a mean lady here. She's come to take me away. Will you help me?" to her advantage. She use's her skills, knowledge and (fake) open-mindedness concerning Max's and Daniel's "flaws", such as lack of interest, stupidity and immaturity, to her advantage. She tries to learn playing the piano, so Kate can teach her. Only to find out, that she's a master at playing, and only pretend to not knowing how to play, so Kate would find enjoyment teaching her, and hopefully make her look less at her own children/appreciate Esther more: "It must be frustrating for someone who loves music as much as you to have a son who isn't interested and a daughter who can't even hear." Daniel's lack of maturity is especially visible during the dinners, where she keeps cold and sweet, to make him look like an asshole while he's bullying her. Only to make him look dumb with a total lack of knowledge, when commenting and correcting him on his comments on where she's from. In another scene, she makes him look even worse, when she's telling him what Max his own sister is saying, when he asks. These episodes provoke him into bullying her even more, and therefore making him look even more immature.
And I haven't even started on Kate yet
All of these things are very significant for a psychopath. To create a deception of yourself, a way of exploiting people by charming, manipulating them and giving them false impressions, only to take advantage of their feelings/skills sometimes through blackmailing. The director really gets this into the light, by scene after scene giving the audience clues as to what kind of person we're dealing with here, and what she's capable of. Me, I care less about the plot of the movie. That she's from an asylum in Estonia, that she's actually 37-years old or whatever. What I care about, is the way of building the character of Esther. Her behavior, her level-by-level shown personality development, through verbal, nonverbal and physical actions. All the things happening to the family, which makes it (especially Kate) to crack, is of course horrible. But in my opinion, the movie's greatest strength is the character development through mystery.
I can highly recommend this.
Pusher II (2004)
It is hard to make a movie that hits the same atmosphere, and also the same punch and credibility, which was the case with Nicolas Winding Refn's debut movie Pusher. In Pusher II Refn has got his hands on some of the right stuff, the atmosphere is definitely there, also the credibility to some extent. But concerning the punch, Refn has totally missed, which is something the movie suffers from.
The story takes place a couple of years after the first Pusher, where we this time aren't following the energetic and macho frank, but the subdues and (in his opinion) slick Tonny. He's just been released after 13 months in prison, where he leaves with a minor debt, to another prison inmate. Without having any idea of how to get the money, he seeks out his dad, Smeden (portrayed by a well performing Leif Sylvester Pedersen), to get a job. Smeden is a respected man in Copenhagen's criminal underworld, who is known for selling stolen cars. Smeden doesn't seem very thrilled to see Tonny, but in the end he is his son, so he agrees to give him a job.
But Tonny has got more problems than first assumed, when he gets a visit from a former prostitute, who claims that he is the father to her, a few months old son. Therefore she demands that he takes a paternity test, so see if he actually is the father. And if that is the case, then demand maintenance of him.
Tonny gets furthermore mixed himself up in some problems with some unknown kingpins, because of his friend Kusse-Kurt, who (like Tonny) isn't very clever. This forms the foreground history for Pusher II, but the movie isn't even as successful as its predecessor.
The main character Tonny, is as mentioned a very subdues person, which is seen in peoples perception of him. Everyone besides his friends treats him very poorly, and considers him a loser. He pretends to not care about this, but deep down it hurts his self-esteem. Because of this, he has a very strong necessitate to show himself off, and has besides of that a strong need for recognition. This is the reason, why he does almost everything people tell him to, and puts up with people calling him various terms of abuse almost constantly. He seems most of all like a dog, who through its whole life has been beaten, and now just obeys orders, to get higher up in the hierarchy.
This does that the movie is very "fluctuating", compared to Pusher, where there was a goal, and a manipulating and controlling person steered towards it. Because of this, Pusher II is not very good as a whole. The small loose ends in the story, is in the end supposed to appear as one big problem, which doesn't work after the intention. The movie was made because Refn had money problems, which can be seen. Many of the key things in the story, feels a bit like makeshift solutions, which were put together as fast as possible. I'm most of all referring to Tonny's friend Kurt's problem with the unknown kingpins, which doesn't work in any way after the intention.
But in spite of the movies weaknesses, it still has its positive elements. The characters aren't something to cheer for, but concerning Tonny's life, you as a viewer really get the impression of how he is feeling. One of the last scenes, where he is sitting in an apartment and gets smeared, is very convincing. You can feel exactly how he feels, which is due to Mads Mikkelsen's performance. He (in spite of the few work conditions) really puts his stamp on this movie. After a few comical parts in movies like Blinkende Lygter (Flickering Lights) and De Grønne Slagtere (The Green Butchers), he again proves what a brilliant character-actor he is. You really get under the skin of Tonny, and experience how life is for a criminal, who can't find his place in the world.
As a sequel to Pusher, the movie isn't worth a lot. But as a single movie, that shows a portrait of the criminal environment, it still detaches itself. The realism that its predecessor had is still very much there, something that doesn't happen a lot in a world, where Hollywood is spitting one unrealistic action film out after the other. So thumbs up to Refn and the actors for a fine drama in the criminal world, and let's hope that Refn continues to make movies as good as this or even better in the future.
Funny Games (2007)
Boring, pathetic, and non-creative movie
Let me start of by saying, that I really didn't find this movie entertaining. At all. It's like it tries to be psychological, it tries to be scary in a way that hasn't been seen before, but it just doesn't work on any level.
The first thing that came to mind while reading about this movie, was the thriller/scary movie "Saw". I actually didn't find Saw that entertaining. The cop vs. criminal story was pretty pathetic, and the "big surprise" of the movie was pretty obvious in my opinion. But, what I enjoyed about the movie, was the so called "tests", that Jigsaw put the people to. It was actually kinda interesting, and made me think about the extraordinary movie Se7en for one, because on some level, it contained some of the same points as it. Because Jigsaw had a point, and (even though being a psycho) had a plan to help people, and make them want to change their lives to the better. This is where Funny Games really lacks in my opinion, 'cause, in the end, what's the point? The two young boys obviously just want to torture the people they find. I don't know if they just want to do it, or need to find a reason/excuse to do it. The movie doesn't really explain. If it's the first one, then why not just do what you gotta do? If it's the second one, and they're trying to be "innocent", then why torture the family? To get even? I don't get it. And if the whole trying to be nice thing, is sort of a psychological way to mess with the family member's heads, it doesn't work. At least not for the viewer.
The so called "torture" the family members are going through, are also pretty boring and pathetic. The only thing one of the family members ever do, is when the mother Anna is taking of her shirt, and are standing topless. Of course, not a very pleasant thing to do. Certainly not under the present circumstances in the movie either. But is it really that heartbreaking? For one thing, I think the whole drama about it is totally over the edge. Even if you count their sons position in it. Second, it is not creative at all. And, with a movie like this, I demand creativity! The only way those two guys really mess with the family, is by hurting them psychically. And is that in any way creative? If you're an interrogator, yes. But this movie, it gets nowhere. In the beginning of the movie, the boys tell the family that they wanna make a bet with them. That they (the boys) wanna bet, that in 12 hours the family will be dead. When you as a viewer hear that, you, unconsciously, start to expect the boys to try to mess with the family's head's. You expect them to go though several things, that makes them go against each other. And in the end, the members will have a bigger wish to die, than to stay alive. But that never happens, not even nearly.
One last thing I want to comment on is the way the family members behave. I don't want to tell that much, due to potential spoilers. But there is a time in the movie where the members have a chance to escape, but they act totally stupid. Even if one consider the situation they're in.
Watch this movie a boring Sunday afternoon, where you have nothing else to do, and don't want to go outside because the rain is pouring down. Any other day, stay totally away from it. It isn't worth your time. If you wanna watch a movie that makes you feel uncomfortable, go watch Requiem for a Dream or A Clockwork Orange. They'll do it for you, I guarantee.