Up to Date film critic Steve Walker reviews three new releases.
The Last Station
Oscar nominations have been bestowed upon both Christopher Plummer (his first) and Helen Mirren for bringing to life Leo Tolstoy - who's in his last years but at the height of his celebrity - and his put-upon wife, Sofia. Though its dive into doctrine and philosophy can get a bit mossy, there are fascinating details aplenty, like Tolstoy's disdain for sex, and the sets and costumes are lush and period-perfect. And despite Mirren's and Paul Giamatti's occasional scenery-chewing, there's a nice supporting performance from the always soulful James McAvoy as Tolstoy's personal assistant.
The White Ribbon
Director Michael Haneke is not for every taste; in fact, his faithful but pointless remake in English of "Funny Games," which he'd already made in his native German,? is one of the most disturbing films of the last decade. His redemption is this gorgeous, dense and hypnotic film,? which is currently the front-runner for this year's Best Foreign Film Oscar. Beautifully shot in pristine black-and-white, it tracks like a rich historic novel a series of bizarre and violent incidents in a tiny German town on the cusp on World War I.? Because the chief suspects are the village's stoic, eerie children, it seems obvious Haneke's intent is to document how hate and group-think can wrap its talons around the most innocent players.
Controversial Danish fimmaker Lars von Trier pushes every boundary in this sexually explicit and brutally violent treatise on the unexpected side-effects of grief. After they lose their toddler in a freak accident, parents Willem Defoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg retreat to an isolated cabin in the woods where they attempt to process all their depression, denial and rage. The movie provokes a stark love-hate reaction. Though the movie has scenes of mutilation that are unpleasant if not impossible to watch, you'll want your eyes wide open for the often breath-taking cinematography.