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Mother Night

Director – Keith Gordon – 1996 – US – Cert. 15 – 114m

*****

In this adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, a former Nazi propagandist awaits trial in Israel for war crimes – retail VHS review from Home Entertainment, 1997

From his Israeli prison cell where he must compose his memoirs while awaiting trial for his war crimes in black and white, Howard W. Campbell, Jr. (Nick Nolte in a career-defining performance) recalls in colour flashback his rise to fame in wartime Berlin as a radio propaganda writer/broadcaster for the Third Reich, surviving that regime’s madness by devoting himself to actress wife Helga (Sheryl Lee) and their self-contained Nation Of Two.

Recruited from a park as an undercover American spy by raincoat‑wearing American top brass John Goodman (a small part, but likewise impressive), Campbell has to incorporate coded messages to the Allies in his broadcasts. In 1944, Helga dies. After the War, Campbell winds up alone in a seedy New York apartment where neighbours include fellow widower Alan Arkin and Auschwitz survivor‑turned‑doctor Ayre Gross.

When admiring right wing activists arrive at Campbell’s door, the tale (based on Kurt Vonnegut’s novel) lurches even further into surrealism. Gordon’s direction is flawless throughout.

SOUND Ironically bookended by White Christmas, the sparse but subtle surround mix manages two highly effective moments (the very start, the very end) that work as emotional punctuation marks.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Melancholia (2011)

Director – Lars von Trier – 2011 – Denmark – Cert. 15 – 135m

*****

End of the world drama concerns two sisters who must confront unspeakable disaster – UK release date 30/09/2011

There have been end of the world movies before, but this one, by Danish enfant terrible Lars von Trier, breaks the mould. It comes in three parts: a prelude of apocalyptic imagery including a view of the planet Melancholia crashing into and obliterating the planet Earth, followed by two lengthy sections concerning two sisters.

The first section has the newly-wed Justine (Kirsten Dunst) making a mess of her lavishly planned, obscenely expensive wedding party at the house of her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and Claire’s wealthy husband John (Kiefer Sutherland).

The second has Claire, John their pre-teen son Leo (Cameron Spurr) and Justine awaiting what may turn out to be either the close passing by of Melancholia to the Earth or the fatal collision of the larger planet with the smaller. Depending on whether the prelude’s pictured events are actually going to happen or merely an imagined worst case scenario. A provocative game for a film director to play with an audience.

The prelude – slo-mo state of the art images underscored by classical music not unlike the opening to von Trier’s earlier Antichrist (2009) – has falling birds, static electricity, Justine in a wedding dress ensnared by forest branches and Claire carrying Leo through scenes of apocalyptic mayhem.… Read the rest