Each month, the Indie Prof reviews a current film in the theater and a second film that is available on DVD or an instant-streaming service.
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A Hijacking (2013)
This new film from Danish director Tobias Lindholm marks only his second feature, and I can announce with certainty that “a star is born.” A directing star, that is. His first film, R, was a taut prison drama that showed promise; A Hijacking delivers on the promise. The best of Danish cinema, as I mentioned a few months ago, delivers both realism and a psychological study of the characters. This film does both brilliantly.
The story is simple: a Danish ship is hijacked by Somali pirates far away from the Indian shores. The film then cross-cuts between the ship and the corporate office where negotiations with the pirates ensue. It is not hard to make corporate executives look cold and callous; it is very hard to make them human and likeable, and the film accomplishes the latter. As the negotiations drag on, however, the crew begins to fall apart as the CEO Peter (wonderfully played by Søren Malling) juggles difficult negotiations with the hijackers and pressure from the families and his board. And there is his wife, who at the height of the crisis sashays into his office and sunnily announces that she is going shopping. His reaction is both shocking and intensely real.
The action on the ship centers on the cook, Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk), who becomes a de facto spokesman and the focus of psychological torture by the pirates. The crew members separated from each other, forced to urinate in their rooms, and at various points may have guns in their backs or celebrate a fish catch with the pirates. We, and they, never know what to expect.
The semi-documentary style of the cinematography is perfectly oppressive with a plethora of close-ups that make us feel the claustrophobia, tension, and heat of the increasingly disgusting conditions on the ship. When the crew is brought to the deck for a breath of fresh air, it is a breath of fresh air for us, the viewers, as well. Few films can create that amount of tension and suture us into the action. We feel what they feel.
Opened 6/28 at the Chez Artiste. You will like this film if you enjoyed: One Day in September, Zero Dark Thirty, The Battle of Algiers
July is Sci-Fi month: this is the third year I will host a Science Fiction series in conjunction with the Museum of Nature and Science and the Denver Film Society. See my Facebook page for more details. So here is a DVD review of an excellent, recent Sci-Fi film.
A film about monsters where you rarely see the monsters is a gamble. Yet that is what you get here with Monsters (directed by Gareth Edwards), an intense, affecting, and indelibly watchable film that does what the best sci-fi does: it focuses on the ideas. If you are a fan of action, don’t turn away just yet because there is plenty of action to keep you sated through the sprite 94 minutes of the film. The result is utterly satisfying.
The set-up is tantalizing: several years ago a U.S. deep-space probe to the Jupiter moon Europa retrieved specimens of alien life forms. The probe crash-landed over Mexico, and now, seven years later, the area straddling the U.S. and Mexico has become quarantined and infected with the alien monsters. The daughter (Whitney Able) of a U.S. newspaper magnate gets caught in an attack just south of the area, and then is escorted back to the U.S. by a paper employee (Scoot McNairy). They have to divert through the infected zone, and the action ensues.
The special effects here are very good, and they were all created by Edwards and his laptop. The entire budget of the film was about $800,000, and the cast and crew of five traveled (economically!) through Central America for a few weeks filming the primary footage. Edwards did the rest.
While the story is alluring, the depth resides in the allegory. There are obvious statements about immigration, but a more resonant comment centers on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars spanning the decade. What happens when you have a war and nobody pays attention? Is it possible to completely obfuscate two wars and thousands of deaths? Apparently, the film states, it is.
Available on DVD in the Sam Gary Library or on Netflix Instant Queue. You will like this film if you enjoyed: Moon, Children of Men, Solaris.
Vincent Piturro, PhD, teaches Cinema Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.