Lukas Moodysson's "Lilja 4-Ever" is a Heartbreaker


Swedish director Lukas Moodysson’s “Lilja 4 Ever” is a bleak, heartbreakingly honest story about the lives of young people in the former Soviet Union. His debut film “Show me Love” was reviewed earlier on this blog. In his writing and directing he has shown a great ability to bring out honest emotions and humanity to his characters.

Lilja is a 16-year-old girl who lives with her mother in a cold concrete housing complex in Estonia. She starts out as a beautiful, morally strong girl who just happens to be in a terrible situation. Through an agency, her mother has found a Russian man who lives in America to marry her. Lilja is thrilled and thinks she is going too, but hold on she is to be sent for later. After her mother’s departure, Lilja is moved into an even smaller, even dirtier complex by her cold and angry Aunt. Lilja’s only friend at school betrays her and is left completely alone. She meets Volodya, a 12-year-old boy living in the same complex who complains that his father is “crazy”. After being kicked out Lilja allows him to stay in her apartment as long as there is no “funny stuff”. These characters have had to grow up fast and have little hope of making anything for themselves but still, find the courage to move on.

With no money to buy food and her Aunt refusing and unable to help; Lilya is forced to sell herself at a disco to pay the bills. On her way home one night she meets Andrei, a good looking, well to do man, who is quite out of place in this environment. He tells her that he doesn’t want sex but to be her friend. After a few dates, he talks her into to moving to Sweden where he could get her a good paying job. This is all too good to be true and everyone but Lilja can see it. She is so blinded by her hopes and dreams that she is willing to do anything. Deep down does she really believe him? What will happen to Volodya? This is what makes the last part of the film that much more heartbreaking. Lilja arrives in Sweden without Andrei, who says “he’ll be there in a few days”. She is picked up at the airport by another man who takes her passport and brings her to a decent looking apartment, but the door locks from the outside. Just as we suspected Lilja has been sold into prostitution, and let’s just say Volodya doesn’t fair to well by himself. The film does end on a peaceful note, but at what cost?

"The Messenger" A Highly Emotional Trip


There has been a platoon full of bad Iraq war movies in the past few years, but it seems to be getting better. Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” took home the Academy Award for best picture for 2009, and “The Messenger” is just as engaging if not more so.

Directed by Oren Moverman, “The Messenger” is about the least desirable job in the military, Casualty Notification Officer. Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson lead a pitch-perfect cast in this intensely emotional film. Staff Sergeant William Montgomery (Foster) is back home recovering from a bomb blast when for the last three months of his service time he is assigned to a local Casualty Notification Team. It is Captain Tony Stone’s (Harrelson) duty to show him the ropes. Stone, a Gulf War vet who never saw any real combat, is a recovering alcoholic and a very lonely man. He is like a hollowed out steel statue of a man, who has had to always keep a stern dignified face while delivering the worst news a family could possibly get. Sergeant Montgomery is a very skilled, very smart soldier but wonders how long he could last and against all protocol and judgment starts up a relationship with the widow of a deceased soldier, played by Samantha Morton. This relationship is handled very well and like the rest of the film is grounded in reality.

The notification scenes are absolutely heart wrenching and feel as real as it gets. Director Moverman really did his homework on the material and wrote a fantastic script. He then surrounded himself with a group of the finest actors and craftsmen around and made a truly moving film. As for Woody Harrelson, you kind of forgets how good an actor he is. After last summers horror blockbuster “Zombieland” he proves time and again the kind of range he has. Then there is Ben Foster who has quietly built a reputation as one of the finest actors around with roles in big budget films and small independent films like this one.

The DVD has a 25 minute documentary about Casualty Notification Officer, a commentary track and a few other extras. A definite must see!

"Re-Animator" The 80s Horror Classic!


Stuart Gordon’s original horror masterpiece is an absolute classic that can be seen again and again. The insanely realistic gore and effects are like nothing seen before. Released in 1986, it got some pretty damn good reviews for a horror movie. "Re-Animator" is pure 80s horror at its very best.

Jeffery Combs plays Dr. Herbert West, a grad student studying medicine, the brain in particular, at the fictitious Miskatonic University in Massachusetts. He previously studied in Switzerland with Dr. Gruber, who died under mysterious circumstances. Dr. West has developed a fluorescent green serum that when injected into the base of the brain can reanimate the dead. Dr. West follows in a long line of Frankenstein like mad scientists who try to conquer death.

West rents a room with the star student Dan, who is also dating the Dean’s daughter Megan. Megan is by far the weakest of the actors and was probably only cast for her nude scenes, but hey it works. The other actors perform as expected while the real star of the show is the effects. The practical, before CGI, ruined everything effects. The script wasn’t written by Shakespeare, but it doesn’t hurt the film. Did I mention how crazy the effects were!

Anchor Bay has released a 2-Disc DVD loaded with every feature imaginable and is definitely worth picking up.

"Show Me Love" Brilliant Teen Movie from Sweden


Internationally acclaimed director Lukas Moodysson’s 1998 film “Show Me Love” is a brilliantly scripted teen drama/comedy that has been compared to “American Pie” in its real-life depiction of teenagers. This was Moodysson’s first feature film and one of Sweden highest grossing films ever.

The story really touches on a wide variety of human truths that apply to teenagers as well as parents all around the world. The basic culture of a high school is the same no matter where you live. In the small town of Amal, like many American towns, teens have little to do and are bored to no end. Agnes is just turning sixteen and her family moves quite frequently, leaving her with few friends. She is a social outcast and rumored to be a lesbian. Her parents are loving and supportive but not in a fake, condescending way. They are not your typical teen movie parents who are usually either absent or played as out of touch buffoons. On the other side of the spectrum there is Elin, the most popular girl in school, but does this mean her life is somehow easier? Not by a long shot. Being beautiful has its downside. Elin and her slightly older sister Jessica have your basic love-hate relationship. They hang out with each other all the time but constantly argue and fight only to make up.

Against her wishes, Agnes’s mom throws her a birthday party, with her only her guest being her pseudo friend Viktoria who is confined to a wheelchair. The party is a disaster as Agnes, unprovoked, blows up at Vicktoria. As Elin and Jessica leave one party they look for another and decide to crash Agnes’s. Elin ends up kissing Agnes on a dare from her sister leaving Agnes used, confused and angry. In the middle of a half-hearted suicide attempt, Elin returns and the girls walk, talk, and goof off. Can a movie about teen lesbians be made without being exploitive or clich├ęd? Yes, Moodysson’s characters are as real and as honest as it gets, he never goes for the cheap laugh or the tired stereotypes. These are real people and it makes the film so much richer. The other question would be, can Agnes and Elin be open with there feelings for each other at school? Elin is very hesitant and blows off Agnes for a big part of the story, deciding to hook up with Johan instead. Johan is another well put together a character who all too often buckles under peer pressure and never makes up his own mind. This leads us to the paradox of being a teenager, everybody wants to be unique and different while wanting to belong and fit in with everybody else. Then there is the age-old question of what is normal? The movie ends with a very metaphorical scene at the school when Agnes and Elin decide if their relationship is worth going forward.

High school can be and usually is the most volatile time in a person’s life and often lays the foundation of who we are as adults. Will Agnes and Elin’s relationship last? Who knows, but the bigger message of this movie is over coming what other people think of you and becoming your own person.