Film Review: ARCTIC (Iceland 2018) ***1/2

Arctic Poster

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A man stranded in the Arctic after an airplane crash must decide whether to remain in the relative safety of his makeshift camp or to embark on a deadly trek through the unknown in hopes of… See full summary »


Joe Penna

ARCTIC opens with a man digging up a path – a difficult task the man might have gone on for days as rocks had to be removed from the ground.  As the camera pulls back, it is revealed that it is not a path that is being cleared by the man, but part of a huge message carved out of the ice and snow with the letters S.O.S.   The man, Overgard (Mads Mikkelsen) has been stranded in the ARCTIC after his plane crashes and he is desperately waiting for a rescue.

The film goes on for a full 20 minutes with his survival – catching and eating fish; keeping warm; sleeping etc, before something else happens.  A helicopter appears.  When the helicopter that finds him crashes, the pilot is killed and the passenger, a young woman (María Thelma Smáradóttir) severely injured.  Overgard must then decide whether to remain in the relative safety of his camp or to embark on a deadly trek through the unknown for potential salvation.

The dialogue, when there is any is in English but there is much that is to be read between the lines or in this case, between the images.  For one, what happens on screen will reveal what season of the year it is that Overgard had been stranded.  He ice fishes but as the film progresses, the ice has become thicker and the fishing hole becomes frozen.  There is also quite an amount of light during the day.  One can come to the assumption that it is probably late summer and the weather is gradually getting colder.  This explains why he decided to make the difficult trip on foot to find civilization instead of waiting if warmer weather is approaching.

The audience will also ponder the reason he has decided to take the injured young woman to safety instead of just ditching her.  For one, she was in the helicopter that crashed trying to land and perhaps rescue him.  So, he owes it to his conscience to save her.

Films like ARCTIC are usually based on  true events but nothing of this sort is mentioned at the beginning of the film.  One in a way wishes that the film is based on a true story in order to see what a human being in real life might have gone through.  On the other hand, after watching the film, one might be relieved that no one had to go through what the protagonist in the film underwent.  Actor Mikkelsen referred to the film as the most difficult shoot of his career.

There are films that are difficult (to put it mildly) to watch.  Overgard, trekking through the ice and snow in blizzard conditions dragging a home-made stretcher carrying the injured woman creates quite the image.  When Overgard falls through the ice and gets his legs jammed stuck between the rocks, he finds he has no alternative but force his legs free, demanding a lot of physical pain in the process.   Screams help him forget the pain, but this is one scene that will have many an audience shut they eyes or turn away.

ARCTIC avoids the typical happy Hollywood ending and ends with an alternative appropriate ending (that will not be revealed in the review) that should satisfy audiences.  ARCTIC is a difficult but rewarding watch that shows man’s conquest over the elements of cold and ice.



Movie Review: ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (UA 2016) ***1/2

rogue_one_movie_poster.jpgDirector: Gareth Edwards
Writers: Chris Weitz (screenplay), Tony Gilroy (screenplay)
Stars: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, Jimmy Smits

Review by Gilbert Seah

It is finally here and the world is waiting to hear how good (or bad) the $200 million production of the new Star Wars film is. For one, the filmmakers are clear to emphasize that this is a standalone story. By this, they mean that the story, set shortly before the events of the original Star Wars, is not part of the other STAR WARS films, though there are already two more films after ROGUE ONE in the making as ROGUE ONE is the first of three anthology films.

There is not much original in the story of ROGUE ONE. But there is little to disappoint. Again, the film begins with the title, “Long time ago in a galaxy far away..”, though the words are differently laid out. The scriptwriters Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, from a story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta ensure the successful formula is untampered with. And there are lots of spectacle, new characters, explosions, exotic futuristic sets combined with exotic setting – space towers emerging from a tropical paradise. At times, the film feels like a James Bond film, where the hero and troops storm the villain’s lair, take him out while blowing everything up.

It all starts with the escape of young Jyn Erso as a child as she witnesses her mother shot dead and her inventor father (Mads Mikkelsen) taken away to create a planet destroyer for the Empire. With this weapon, the rebels would stand no chance of winning the battle for the galaxy.

So, the Rebel Alliance recruits the grown up Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) after freeing her from prison, to work with a team including Cassian Andor (Diego Luna from Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN) to steal the design schematics of the Empire’s new superweapon, the Death Star. That is about it for the story, leaving the film plenty of time for action, spectacle and more action and more spectacle. Music is by Michael Giacchino with pieces taken from the original score by John Williams.

The enmity between Cassia and Jyn inevitably turns into romance. But the romance is executed in good taste without distraction from the action at hand. The two are just shown holding hands in the key scene.

The choice of a female protagonist heroine as in the last STAR WARS film last year is a good one, given these politically correct times. After all, Princess Lea, a key Star Wars character is female and key to the whole saga.

The main villain of the piece is played with sufficient relish by Ben Mendelsohn next to the odd appearances of Darth Vader. But the new characters that steal the show are played by Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen. Have the Chinese taken over? The new droid K-2SO,(Alan Tudyk) a Rebel-owned Imperial enforcer also makes a new welcome non-human hero.

As in last year’s THE FORCE AWAKENS, reviewers were asked not to reveal plot points or twists. In THE FORCE AWAKENS, these included the death of Hans Solo and the end appearance of Luke Skywalker. In ROGUE ONE, there ares equal surprises to please the fans.

Trailer: v=frdj1zb9sMY 


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Film Review: DOCTOR STRANGE (USA 2016) ***

doctor_strange_poster.jpgDOCTOR STRANGE (USA 2016) ***
Directed by Scott Derrickson

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen

Review by Gilbert Seah

The Marvel superhero DOCTOR STRANGE gets his first debut on the big screen complete with 3D. Though the character has appeared in a TV movie and animated film before, he is given a fresh treatment which is a good thing considering that there are already too many super hero action movies each year.

It also helps that the film is directed by a horror film director Scott Derrickson rather than an action director. Derrickson directed the two SINISTER films, THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE including the Hollywood version of DELIVER US FROM EVIL, the latter of which contained a lot of dead-pan humour, repeated in DOCTOR STRANGE. Those who have watched Benedict Cumberbatch in real-life know that this actor is prefect for deadpan straight face comedy.

Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch), the world’s top neurosurgeon, is as rich as rich comes. He stays in a luxurious London apartment. But he has an ego as enormous as his wealthy possessions. His life is changed when he is injured in a violent car accident (well shot) that ruins his career. Strange sets out on a journey of healing, where he encounters the Ancient One, who later becomes Strange’s mentor in the mystic arts.

More satisfying than the action set-pieces are the special-effect set pieces. The first of these is the most impressive with a fight taking place on the side of British-type architecture where the windows turn into revolving folding panels. The look reminds one immediately of Christopher Nolan’s INCEPTION, the film which likely gave Derrickson some inspiration. Like that film, characters also travel through portals in between different dimensions.

As expected in all Marvel film adaptations, Stan Lee provides his surprise cameo. Where he appears will not be revealed here, as it is always fun to spot him.

DOCTOR STRANGE contains less at action than the expected super hero action film. A bit too much time is devoted to Strange’s moping about everything. For all the film’s different twists on the action hero film genre, the results are conventional. There is the good guy (in this case a lady in the film personified by Tilda Swinton) that turns out questionable and the possible good trainee (Dane Mads Mikkelsen, MEN & CHICKEN, QUANTUM SOLACE) who turns out finally to be villainous.

But despite all these praises, the film begins to lag towards the middle. The film also descends into a conventional action film by the climax – the fight between Strange and the villain, which is a real shame given the initial promise at the film’s start.

The film contains too many puns that go with the hero’s name ‘Strange’ – a temptation that scriptwriter clearly yields to.

The Audience should stay for the end of the closing credits. As in the other films set in the Marvel Universe, there is a short clip teaser of what is to arrive in the next instalment.

It is also odd that DOCTOR STRANGE gets a post summer release unlike the other action hero blockbusters. This should work in favour for the film after a quiet weekend at the box-office where the previous week only saw one major Hollywood release (INFERNO).



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Movie Review: MEN & CHICKEN (Denmark/Germany 2015) Top 10 *****

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menandchicken.jpgMEN & CHICKEN (Denmark/Germany 2015) Top 10 *****
Directed by Anders Thomas Jensen

David Dencik, Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas
Review by Gilbert Seah

Director Anders Thomas Jensen’s (THE GREEN BUTCHERS) is a very black comedy – none can come blacker, about two different brothers – same father but different mothers. Firstly, it should be noted that writer/director Jensen is an Oscar winner – for his short film in 1999. So, this brilliant piece of filmmaking is no stroke of luck.

Gabriel (David Dencik) is a worn down university professor and Elias (Mads Mikkelsen) is a man whose only concern is women and trivial knowledge. At the film’s opening, Elias is having dinner – apparently a first date with a woman in a wheelchair. The reason he picked her are manyfold. One is that he thinks that girls in wheelchairs are easier. Secondly she is a psychiatrist and that he can get free advice on his dreams. It is a hilarious scene that ends with him jerking off in the toilet. It is there that the story picks up. Gabriel receives a phone call that their father is dead. Things take a turn when the brothers learn through a videotape recorded by their now late father, that he in fact wasn’t their biological father. Gabriel and Elias discover that their biological father lives on the island Ork. They set out to the island and here they meet their real family. And the family – all brothers with hair cleft lips behave like the three stooges, constantly beating each other up and obeying weird rules made up by one of them, Josef (Soren Malling).

They all live in a dirty abandoned sanatorium where animals roam everywhere. The sets are made as as dirty and disgusting as they come. The actors are also dressed as poorly as possible and everyone is plain ugly in the film. All this is pure delight for those who love their humour served up weird and different.

There are too many extremely weird but hilarious segments to mention. One of the best involves the four brothers driving out of the old sanatorium to pick up girls. Where do they go? The old age home. “What happens if we don’t get any?” one asks. Elias replies, “It will be a world record if I don’t get lucky.” But there are slim pickings and they quibble who will get the jig-saw lady with the walker. Another is the dinner table set-up (inspired by the director’s childhood experiences at the dinner table) when the brothers argue on the dog plate (the plate with a picture of a dog on it). The one with the cow plate wants it. Elias volunteers to give him his owl plate to prevent a fight but is told the owl plate is worse than the cow plate. When an argument ensues, Elias switches his owl plate for the cow plate. The situations get weirder and weirder, but director is dead serious on his material, pushing it past boundaries.

Mikkelsen and Dencil and the other actors work wonderfully well – weather fighting or sleeping together. They have worked before with director Jensen.

I first previewed MEN AND CHICKEN last year at the Toronto International Film Festival. Second viewing still proves the film fascinating weird, hilarious and inventive. Not for the faint of heart nor for those who like their humour sane This is insanity at its most heightened. Love it or hate it, MEN AND CHICKEN is the weirdest movie of the year, hands down.

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