Anders Thomas Jensen

Anders Thomas Jensen

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The Salvation Review


Excellent

Just when you thought no one could come up with a fresh take on the Western, the Danes arrive with this astonishingly earthy and inventive film, shot in South Africa no less. Director Kristian Levring uses all of the usual elements without ever resorting to cliches, which makes the film strikingly involving. Not only are the characters people we can identify with, but their moral dilemmas are strikingly provocative. Especially as the violence escalates.

The story opens in 1871, as Danish immigrant Jon (Mads Mikkelsen) welcomes his wife (Nanna Oland Fabricius) and young son to the American prairie where he has worked for seven years. But on the way home from the station, they are ambushed by outlaws. After a desperate struggle, Jon manages to kill them, but this puts him on the wrong side of the local boss Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who enforces cooperation from the town's mayor-undertaker (Jonathan Pryce) and sheriff-priest (Douglas Hensall). So aside from his brother Peter (Mikael Persbrandt), Jon has nowhere to turn. His only hope of justice is to deliver it himself.

Adding an intriguing layer is the fact that Jon and Peter are veterans of Denmark's civil war, just as the locals are survivors of America's. So everyone has war in their blood. The Danish brothers have vowed to turn their backs on violence and build a lawful society, so the flurry of clashes, kidnappings and killings with Delarue's goons (including Eric Cantona) are tinged with regretfulness. And the script never lets the audience off lightly: in the Wild West, no one is safe. Civilisation has only begun to arrive in this isolated place, but the discovery of oil has replaced old world values with pure, unfiltered greed. Yes, there's a lot more going on here than the usual swaggering Western machismo. And the casting has as much to do with that as the script.

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A Second Chance Review


OK

From Denmark, this morally complex drama is urgent and provocative even if the story is full of lapses that make it feel oddly implausible. It's a reteaming of director Susanne Bier and screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen, whose breakout 2004 film Brothers (remade in 2009 with Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire) had similar problems: a high-concept premise that makes the dilemma more important than plot coherence.

Game of Thrones star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau returns home to Denmark to star in the film. He plays Andreas, a detective who is horrified when he and his partner Simon (Ulrich Thomsen) find badly neglected infant Sofus in the home of lowlife ex-con Tristan (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and his junkie girlfriend Sanne (Lykke May Anderson). But there's no legal way to remove the baby from his parents. This hits Andreas especially hard since his son Alexander is the same age and his wife Anna (Maria Bonnevie) is struggling emotionally with motherhood. Then Alexander dies unexpectedly and Andreas hatches a plan: he swaps the dead Alexander for the abused Sofus. Obviously both of the mothers notice this immediately, but Anna accepts it and no one will listen to Sanne's outcry. And Tristan is preoccupied with trying to cover up what he thinks is his son's death.

Bier and Jensen work diligently to set up this premise, with details that try to address each aspect of the story, but it simply never holds water. For example, we never believe that Andreas' action is something any caring husband would do, especially one who works for the police. Or that Anna and Simon would go along with it. So as the story becomes increasingly entangled, everything begins to feel like it's heading for the only conclusion possible. Thankfully, Bier and Jensen are skilled enough to make all of this compelling, challenging the audience to confront each decision the characters make and consider the moral repercussions of everything they do.

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Love Is All You Need Review


Good

It's rare to find a romance that's actually based on such vivid characters as these, but then this is from Oscar-winning filmmaker Susanne Bier (In a Better World), who knows how to root films in people rather than plot structure. And even more important: this is a romance about middle-aged people we can genuinely engage with, as they have been beaten down by life and are in need of a fresh start.

It starts in Copenhagen, where hairdresser Ida (Dyrholm) has just finished cancer treatment when she discovers that her husband Leif (Bodnia) is sleeping with a young airhead (Schaumburg-Miller). Now she has to pack her son (Hansen) off to war before heading to Italy for the marriage of daughter Astrid (Egelind) to her boyfriend Patrick (Jessen). Then at the airport, Ida has an unlucky run-in with Patrick's tetchy father Philip (Brosnan), who has focussed only on his work since his wife died. And even as Ida catches his eye, he has to fend off the advances of his lovelorn sister-in-law Benedikte (Steen).

With a group of people gathering for a wedding on an idyllic Mediterranean island, the plot may seem like Mamma Mia without the music. But there are surprising details in the characters as the farce develops, and only a couple of the plot-lines get silly. The central love story is actually remarkably sweet, using Ida's and Philip's troubled histories to make their interaction both snappier and more deeply emotional than we expect. And Bier, working with her usual screenwriter Jensen, are free to let other narrative strands come and go around them.

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In a Better World Review


Extraordinary
This gorgeously assembled Oscar-winning Danish drama explores the nature of violence in a deeply unsettling way. Watching the events unfold is often painfully intense, as we see through the eyes of a variety of conflicted characters.

After his mother dies, 12-year-old Christian (Nielsen) and his father Claus (Thomsen) move from London back to Denmark. Christian is angry at the world, and lashes out at the bully (Holm) in his new school. He befriends the bullied Elias (Rygaard), whose parents Marianne and Anton (Dyrholm and Persbrandt) are splitting up, partly because Anton spends large periods of time working as a doctor in rural Africa. Then after a local bigot (Bodnia) slaps Anton, Christian hatches a plan to get revenge in a very violent way.

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The Duchess Review


Excellent
The Duchess is an Oscar-worthy film.

Now, they may be technical Oscars. It's too soon to catapult Saul Dibb's exquisite period biopic into the Best Picture race, what with 20 or 30 award-hungry competitors left to screen over the next three months. But you can book Dibb's handsome picture for the craft categories -- costume, art direction, makeup, and set design. And if there's any justice in this industry, Duchess will score nods for Rachel Portman's elegant score and for leading lady Keira Knightley, who delivers the most mature, versatile, and devastating performance of her young career (can you believe she's only 23?)

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Brothers (2004) Review


Excellent
In an intelligent psychological drama, director/co-writer Susanne Bier shows us some sure-footedness in developing a complex story and engaging us with characters that make the traumatic stress disorder resulting from war revealing. Though her film doesn't entirely avoid some clichés and borders on melodrama, it doesn't spoil the timely interest of its core subject and the level of tension that it generates.

Add to that a fine ensemble cast to bring us into it. The two brothers of the title are Michael (Ulrich Thomsen), a career military man who seems to excel at everything, and his no-good brother Jannik (Nikolai Lie Kaas, Reconstruction), for whom Michael is both a role model and an impossible standard to live up to. Jannik's love and respect for Michael, on the other hand, is intertwined with the rebelliousness that comes of this inadequacy. To make the point and to make the relationships clear, the film starts with Michael picking Jannik up when he's released from prison and suggesting, on the ride home, that he should apologize to the victim of his crime. Such propriety. Jannik's prison time wasn't adequate punishment for Michael's high standards.

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After The Wedding Review


Weak
Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier's After the Wedding is about orphans, literally and figuratively, for every character in it has been orphaned in one way or other from their proper lives. In bringing her themes to life, Bier follows inauspiciously in the footsteps of Jean Renoir, Louis Malle, and, more recently, Jane Campion, among other Western filmmakers, in using India as a pat, easily available symbol of misery and moral courage.

Bier stakes out the slum warrens of Mumbai to get our attention where we find Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen), a Danish expatriate, running what the press notes called a "woefully under-financed" orphanage. (Honestly, isn't everything in India, depicted in Western cinema, "woeful" and "under-financed"?) Jacob is surrogate daddy to one of the orphans, Pramod (Neeral Mulchandani), whom he's raised since infancy, and who represents his only vital and most human relationship.

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Mifune Review


Excellent
In 1995, Danish directors Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg established a code of ethics for an alternative form of filmmaking. The two directors were fed up by the way in which movie making was "raped" by technology such as special effects, expensive gear, cranes, filters, dollies, and spotlights. They wisely knew that they could never measure up to the Americans in that area, so they decided that European filmmaking should head in an all-together different direction. The result was a vow of chastity complete with the ten commandments of what they called Dogme filmmaking. Some of these groundbreaking rules included: on location shooting without the ability to bring in props, the rule that music will not be used unless it occurs where the scene is being shot, the camera must be hand-held, optical work and filters are forbidden, and the films must not contain superficial action such as murders, weapons, etc. The purpose was to force a director to think along unconventional and imaginative lines in order to create a Dogme film, and the first two attempts, Vinterberg's The Celebration, and Von Trier's The Idiots, were both successful.

Director Soren Kragh-Jacobsen's Mifune, is the third film from the Danish Dogme Collective. Subtitled in English, it is the story of Kresten (Anders W. Berhelsen) who has become an overnight sensation as a businessman in Copenhagen. The morning after his wedding to the boss' daughter, he receives a phone call that his estranged father has just died. He has trouble explaining this to his wife, since he has told everyone in the city that he has no living relatives, in attempt to disguise his humble origins. Now he must return to the family's run down farm to bury his father and make arrangements to hide the truth of his mentally retarded brother from his new family and friends.

Continue reading: Mifune Review

Old Men in New Cars Review


Good
I couldn't even get through In China They Eat Dogs, the film to which this serves as a prequel. But maybe I should have given it a bigger chance: Old Men in New Cars is a funny little thrill ride (despite the stupid title) that fans of that Guy Ritchie-fueled, ironic, post-Pulp Fiction action genre will probably get a kick out of.

Dave Attell lookalike Kim Bodnia is Harald, a Danish restaurateur who's fresh out of prison. He returns to his restaurant, which has been being run (sort of) by his inept assistants during his absence, and immediately demands they fry the sushi rolls they've been experimenting with. Harald's a no-nonsense kind of guy, and his abrupt decisions and absurd logic will drive the film forward. That includes a demand for 3.5 million kroner that he's previously borrowed, a jailbreak to help an old friend meet his son before the friend dies, a bank robbery to steal the money he owes the mob, and -- after that fails -- a plane hijacking designed to steal the 3.5 million plus money to buy the dying friend a new liver on the black market.

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Wilbur Review


Good
Wilbur is about suicide, but at the same time, it's nothing about suicide. Sure, the title character (newcomer Jamie Sives) hangs himself, slits his wrists and, in the movie's first scene, floods his apartment with gas and waits to die. The movie focuses on the power of family bonds and finding oneself. Suicide is treated as a starting point to a movie with a quiet emotional power and depth that lasts long after the plot problems pass and inconsistencies fade.

To prevent further incidents, Wilbur's kindly older brother, Harper (Adrian Rawlins), takes Wilbur in. Harper runs (and lives) in his late father's old Glasgow bookstore. Business is not good. There appear to be just two steady customers: An old man hungry for anything by Kipling, and a pale, whisper-quiet woman named Alice (a very good Shirley Henderson) who trades the books she finds at her depressing hospital job for quick cash.

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The Green Butchers Review


Good
In the strange new Danish import, The Green Butchers, the porcine owner of a butcher shop waxes philosophically on the "mythological" implications of sausage, specifically, on the God-like act of mockery in killing an animal and then stuffing its innards up its own ass. That he says this with the fervor of a tragic Norse hero to a somewhat horrified old lady who manages to nod and squeak her assent makes for a bit of subversive comedy at its chuckle-worthy best. More than that, though, the exchange neatly encases a major theme in writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen's satire: That society at large delights in gorging on itself -- getting fat on the recycled refuse of its materialistic (or, in this case, gastronomic) excess, and the idea that we, as individuals, cannibalize our pasts to feed our grudges in the present. It sounds rather high-minded but Jensen's real success in an otherwise mixed bag of a movie is how cleanly he cleaves to his story -- developing character, infusing dialogue with thematic meaning and binding everything together with tight but breathable plotting -- to come up with an honest but erratic combination of mordent social commentary and sweet-natured character study.

Butchery and death comprise a kind of purgatory for Jensen's pair of main characters. Svend (Mads Mikkelsen), a butcher's assistant with a savage inferiority complex, may vent his bitterness over his miserable parentless childhood though his meat cleaver, but it's through his prized marinade that he hopes to win the love of others--something he's yearned for his whole life. Svend opens his own butcher shop, determined to succeed, and persuades Bjarne (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), a fellow butcher (and only friend, it seems), to join him. On the surface, Svend and Bjarne seem wholly unlike each other: Svend is egotistical and peevish while Bjarne is a brooding recluse floating through life in a haze of pot smoke and a choking anger towards his comatose brother, Eigil, whom Bjarne blames for the long-ago death of his wife and parents. It's Bjarne's indifference to life that's led him to butchery and, moreover, to tolerating Svend's dicing up human corpses and passing them off as chicken fillets at his shop counter. Soon, hordes of customers, all blissfully unaware of what's in those delectable "chickie wickies" (let alone the corpses hanging in the meat locker) are lined up around the block, turning Svend into an instant--though privately chagrined--celebrity.

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Flickering Lights Review


Excellent
Director Anders Thomas Jensen's previous credits includes Dogme 95 screenplays (The King is Alive, Mifune). He won an Academy Award in 1999 for his short film Election Night and has been nominated for two others. Jensen's impressive background translates into an equally impressive debut feature. Flickering Lights is dark and occasionally violent, but is a thoroughly enjoyable and often comic story of four childhood friends who confront their past and build a future together.

Flickering Lights boasts an impressive cast from a broad range of Danish films and television (Mifune, The Celebration, Pusher, The Kingdom), which is put to good use by Jensen's witty script and slow but deliberate direction. Torkild (Søren Pilmark) is the head of a small time gang, pulling small jobs for a gangster known only as the Eskimo. After his 40th birthday and a botched heist involving 4 million krones, Torkild and his gang are forced to hide out in an abandoned inn in the middle of nowhere. The gang has to wait only until Peter (Ulrich Thomsen), who was shot, is well enough to travel, so they can continue on to Barcelona. But after meeting some of the locals and finding moments of peace in this secluded hideaway, Torkild conveniences the rest of the gang that staying put may be the future for which they are all looking. The gang uses the money to buy the inn and renovate it, making it into quaint family restaurant that people drive for miles to visit, not because of the food (the boys apparently never learn to cook), but for the atmosphere.

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Open Hearts Review


Excellent
Anyone who has suffered the pain in the gut after the loss of a loved one will have a special connection to this story coming to us from Denmark. Loss can have many meanings and here it's a matter of a sudden change of destiny and the disappearance of emotional fulfillment as a result of an accident. Moreover, it's a story that evolves as life does. A horror occurs, the people involved react, the change in situation produces new needs which lead to changes and consequences.

The relationship between beautiful, sexy Cecilie (Sonja Richter) and her lover Joachim (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) is fun and endearing and we soon care about these people whose bond is expressed by the playful manner in which Joachim asks Cecilie to marry him and how she responds in the affirmative. The following morning, Cecilie drops Joachim off for a planned trip and, as he springs from the car on the traffic side, is hit by a car. Suddenly, what seemed so sure and positive is wrenched into another dimension.

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Mifune Review


Excellent
In 1995, Danish directors Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg established a code of ethics for an alternative form of filmmaking. The two directors were fed up by the way in which movie making was "raped" by technology such as special effects, expensive gear, cranes, filters, dollies, and spotlights. They wisely knew that they could never measure up to the Americans in that area, so they decided that European filmmaking should head in an all-together different direction. The result was a vow of chastity complete with the ten commandments of what they called Dogme filmmaking. Some of these groundbreaking rules included: on location shooting without the ability to bring in props, the rule that music will not be used unless it occurs where the scene is being shot, the camera must be hand-held, optical work and filters are forbidden, and the films must not contain superficial action such as murders, weapons, etc. The purpose was to force a director to think along unconventional and imaginative lines in order to create a Dogme film, and the first two attempts, Vinterberg's The Celebration, and Von Trier's The Idiots, were both successful.

Director Soren Kragh-Jacobsen's Mifune, is the third film from the Danish Dogme Collective. Subtitled in English, it is the story of Kresten (Anders W. Berhelsen) who has become an overnight sensation as a businessman in Copenhagen. The morning after his wedding to the boss' daughter, he receives a phone call that his estranged father has just died. He has trouble explaining this to his wife, since he has told everyone in the city that he has no living relatives, in attempt to disguise his humble origins. Now he must return to the family's run down farm to bury his father and make arrangements to hide the truth of his mentally retarded brother from his new family and friends.

Continue reading: Mifune Review

Anders Thomas Jensen

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