Movie Review ~ Land of Mine

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The Facts
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Synopsis: A young group of German POWs are made the enemy of a nation, where they are now forced to dig up 2 million land-mines with their bare hands.

Stars: Roland Møller, Louis Hofmann, Joel Basman, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Laura Bro

Director: Martin Zandvliet

Rated: R

Running Length: 110 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Just when you thought all the good WWII stories had been told, along comes Land of Mine from Denmark.  Nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars, it may not have won the top prize or been richly promoted like some of its fellow nominees but it’s a handsomely made effort and a surprisingly memorable one at that.

It’s 1945 in Denmark and while the war is over the battle isn’t quite done.  A crop of young Nazi POW’s are put to work removing the land mines from the coastal beaches and what a deadly task that turns out to be.  Given basic training in locating and dismantling these mechanical booby traps, the young men are kept in rudimentary conditions and nearly starved to death by their captors.  At first, they find little sympathy from their guard Sgt. Carl (Roland Møller), a patriot blistered by his hatred of all Nazis.  Before he meets the boys his anger at the Nazi occupation is demonstrated in bloody detail when he beats a marching prisoner within an inch of his life.

Originally at odds within their own group, they begin to form some semblance of a bond once they are pushed to the brink by Carl and after several lose their limbs and/or lives.  It doesn’t take a seasoned screenwriter to see the plot mechanics of writer/director Martin Zandvliet’s film and you can easily pick out who will avoid going kaboom and almost the precise moment Carl will soften.  Still, strong performances go a long way to elevate Land of Mine away from territory so familiar we aren’t invested in the outcome.

Beautifully filmed by Camilla Hjelm with an unobtrusive score from Sune Martin, Zandvliet keeps you literally on the edge of your seat even as you wait for the inevitable to happen.  As the boys crawl along the beaches and uncover bomb after hidden bomb, you start to let your guard down before reality explodes from below.  To some, it may feel like easy retribution for what the Nazi party did to countless countries and their people, but Zandvliet makes it less about justified revenge and more about the tragedy of the entire situation on both sides.  After all, many of these German POW’s were simple teenagers recruited from their homes and fighting a war they had no value or stake in…when they cry for their families and fallen friends it’s not easy to group them with the SS officers that set about exterminating much of the population in these European countries.

Entertaining but standardly so, it’s not hard to see why Land of Mine wound up in the top five lists at the Oscars just as it’s not hard to see why it didn’t have the full substance to take the award home.  Very much worth a watch, though; just make sure you trim your nails before it starts or else you’ll chew them down during the more tense moments.

Movie Review ~ Logan

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The Facts
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Synopsis: In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X in a hide out on the Mexican border. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are up-ended when a young mutant arrives, being pursued by dark forces.

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Boyd Holbrook, Patrick Stewart, Stephen Merchant, Dafne Keen, Richard E. Grant

Director: James Mangold

Rated: R

Running Length: 137 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: We should all be thanking Mission: Impossible 2.  It may be hard to fathom now, but had his filming as the villain in that sorry sequel not stretched beyond its original shooting schedule, Doughray Scott and not Hugh Jackman would have been the one that wound up playing Logan/Wolverine in nine films.  Well, actually, I’m not sure Scott had the charisma necessary to have lasted as long as Jackman has in the role.  Though he’s ably stretched beyond the superhero universe, Jackman will always be favorably associated with this character/franchise and rightfully so.  Showing a willingness to be a team player (popping up in a cameo during X:Men – First Class) or going his own way in two stand-alone Wolverine pictures, Jackman has seen this role through to the end.  We may see Wolverine again in some form but if Logan is truly the finale Jackman has promised, he’s gone out in a burning blaze of glory.

It’s not worth going back and trying to connect the dots between the X-Men movies when thinking about Logan.  Taking place in the near future shortly after a catastrophic event that dramatically decreased the number of mutants roaming the globe, we meet a weary Logan living under the radar and showing his age.  Moonlighting as a limo driver for extra cash and with his earth-saving days seemingly behind him, he acts as a guardian to Professor X (Patrick Stewart, Green Room), now suffering in an advanced state of dementia.

Crossing paths not only with a silent but deadly pre-teen mutant (Dafne Keen) but the bounty hunter (Boyd Holbrook, Gone Girl) intent on tracking her down, the aged man with adamantium claws that spring from his knuckles doesn’t want to be anywhere near the action.  Resistance is futile, though, and Logan begrudgingly becomes a foster parent of sorts to the girl, committing to delivering her to a protected area in the upper Midwest while keeping Professor X close by.  The trip is rocky with many unexpected detours, all leading to a surprisingly emotional climax that feels justly earned.

With all the “last time as Wolverine” talk surrounding Logan, I’ll let you find out for yourself where our hero is when the credits roll but don’t be surprised if Jackman, reteaming with The Wolverine director James Mangold, has a few tricks up his sleeve as he closes this chapter.  The previous two solo Wolverine films have been a mixed bag.  The first was an outright miss, stumbling out of the gates and pretty much nixing several planned X-Men spin-offs at the same time.  2013’s The Wolverine was a much better film than most gave it credit for but in the end the third time really is the charm because Logan represents the best of what all involved have to offer.

It was a good move on the part of 20th Century Fox, emboldened by the smash success of Deadpool, in okaying Mangold and his screenwriters to make Logan a hard R, a rating it earns within the first five minutes thanks to a gory bit of violence and a barrage of colorful language.  I’ll admit to enjoying hearing Stewart swear like a sailor and while I generally favor the less is more approach, free from ratings restraints it seems like everyone and everything is much looser and less cautious.  The violence is exceedingly vicious and no flesh, blood vessel, bones, or skulls are spared.  And it never feels forced, just that the studio finally allowed the audience to see this world as it was always meant to be.

Admittedly, the X-Men aren’t quite in my wheelhouse and it’s taken me a while to come around to their place in the superhero universe.  I feel they’ve improved as they’ve gone along, feeling less comic book-y and more wholly formed with each passing entry (I know you all hated X-Men: Apocalypse but I dug it just fine).  While Logan isn’t directly tied to those previous films (like Apocalypse was to X-Men: Days of Future Past), it’s clear they are all operating in the same timeline and for that Logan feels like a step in the right direction.

Coming so far from just chomping on a cigar and trimming his mutant mutton chops, Jackman knows this character inside and out.  He takes the opportunity (and lengthy running time) to bring out every nuance he can, not letting Logan be changed from a grumpy old man overnight.  He’s matched well by Stewart, doing his best acting than in any previous X-Men film. Crippled by his disintegrating brain, his grizzled appearance is a far cry from the wheelchair bound gleaming cue ball in a designer suit we have come to enjoy.  Holbrook manages to make his villain nicely vile without alienating the audience in the process but the real find here is Keen who is able to handle some pretty heavy material and handily go claw-to-claw with the leading man.

Featuring several super charged action sequences and just gorgeously filmed in general, if there’s one thing I could ding Logan for it would be a nagging sense of familiarity to its tale of redemption.  While it has its fair share of original moves, you’ll likely be one step ahead of its protagonists on multiple occasions.  No matter, the movie hums along so nicely that even at nearly 2 ½ hours the time will fly by.

For my money, Logan is the best of Jackman’s outings as Wolverine and I’m glad it doesn’t wind up feeling like a tired final act.  This is what true character completion looks like and I applaud not only the entertainment value of the movie but the cast and crew that were allowed by their studio the freedom to give a proper send-off.  Highly recommended and likely worth a second viewing as well.