A harrowing true story infused with sharp humour and bristling intelligence, this riveting film is an auspicious writing-directing debut for TV news comic Jon Stewart. It's based on London-based journalist Maziar Bahari's book Then They Came for Me, a strikingly intimate memoir about being imprisoned in Iran. But the film never becomes a rant at an unjust society. Instead, it digs deep beneath the surface to find much more resonant, and more important, themes.
Maziar (Gael Garcia Bernal) left his pregnant wife (Claire Foy) at home in Britain to travel to Tehran to cover the contentious 2009 elections, after which the streets broke out in protests at what people saw as a rigged victory for Ahmadinejad. Maziar stays to report on this, and does a comical interview with a member of Stewart's team at The Daily Show. But the regime sees this as cooperation with an enemy, and arrests Maziar in his mother's (Shohreh Aghdashloo) home, charging him with espionage. While held in the notorious Evin Prison for nearly four months, Maziar is subjected to psychological torture at the hands of an interrogator (Kim Bodnia) he names "Rosewater" because of his scent. And the memories of similar experiences endured by his father and sister (Haluk Bilginer and Golshifteh Farahani) help Maziar survive his ordeal.
As a director, Stewart continually finds clever ways of revealing the inner workings of Maziar's mind, revealing his thoughts in inventive imagery and sounds. For example, one sequence beautifully weaves in Leonard Cohen's Dance Me to the Edge of Love, which holds a powerful memory for Maziar and also echoes the music and movies Iran's religious regime has strictly forbidden. Even the ghostly appearances of Maziar's father and sister are seamlessly integrated into the story. And the other significant achievement here is a refusal to make anyone a villain. As played by Bodnia, Rosewater is a man doing what he believes to be right, with pangs of conscience that eerily echo the news headlines about how American interrogators mistreated prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Bagram.
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As the Great Depression begins to sweep across America, George Pemberton (Bradley Cooper) and Serena Shaw (Jennifer Lawrence) meet and fall in love. The whirl-wind romance soon sees the couple married, and entering into a lifelong partnership with the start of a timber empire. As Serena steadily proves herself to be more capable than any man in the company, she strongly boosts the productivity and the spirits of her husband. But soon, the house of cards crumbles to show the truth of George's hidden past, and expose the secrets he never expected Serena to find out. The Pembertons are thrown against their toughest obstacle yet - can their love truly conquer all, or is it destined to fall apart?
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Maziar Bahari is an Iranian-Canadian journalist who embarked on a week long trip to Iran in 2009 in a bid to cover the story of the presidential elections, leaving his pregnant wife behind. He spent his time filming campaigns and students, but still understanding that sometimes he needs to turn the camera off for his own safety. However, when situations got heated and the protests began, he decided to make the brave move in videotaping the chaos; including such situations that could've been compromising to the government. Accused of being a foreign spy, he was later arrested, blindfolded, beaten and mercilessly interrogated, with information even as trivial as his Facebook interests being used against him. Despite the fear and the injustice, however, he got through with an extraordinary ability to focus his mind, laughing his way through his four month imprisonment and knowing deep down that he would be free before long.
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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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When Ida, a Danish hairdresser who is recuperating after a series of chemotherapy treatments walks in on her husband cheating on her with a very young colleague from the accounts department at work, she finds her life in tatters. She resolves to travel alone to Italy where her daughter Astrid is set to wed her fiancé Patrick but on the way she meets the angry and aloof Philip who is also living in Denmark and who has become more and more annoyed at the world since his wife passed away. He turns out to be the father of the groom and they are forced to spend time together despite meeting on bad terms. Philip is humbled when he returns to the Italian villa in which he used to live with his wife but other conflicts are cropping up elsewhere even between the bride and groom. However, it isn't long before Philip and Ida start enjoying each other's company and they start to contemplate moving on with their lives.
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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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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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