The Hunt” is the highest profile film from Thomas Vinterberg since his Dogme 1995 film, the stunning “The Celebration.” Since then, he’s worked with Dogme collaborator Lars von Trier on films that barely screened in the States, including “It’s All About Love” and “Dear Wendy.” But “The Hunt” is a tense and suspenseful tale that matches “The Celebration” for its dour view of humanity, yet unlike Mr. Trier, the film is laced with occasional humor and flashes of hope. (Yes, “the von” likes to call some of his most depressing films “comedies,” but come on now).

I suspect the 2012 film— which won its star an award at Cannes— is only finally getting its American release due to the rising star of Mads Mikkelsen, whose dour and vulnerable visage held together “A Royal Affair” and graces the new “Hannibal” series, of which he is the star.

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A Secret Life – ‘The Attack’ muses on both suicide bombing and marriage

Siham (Reymond Amsalem) and Amin (Ali Suliman) embrace Cohen Media photo
Siham (Reymond Amsalem) and Amin (Ali Suliman) embrace
Cohen Media photo

Yasmina Khadra is the pen name of Algerian writer Mohammed Moulessehoul, who lived a sort of double life — one as an officer in the Algerian military, and the other as a writer of short stories and novels. When the incompatibility became too strong, he left the military. “The Attack” from 2005 was a major seller, especially in France, and now director Ziad Doueiri has brought this tale to the screen in a slightly airbrushed version. Before Mr. Doueiri made his own films, he worked in the camera department on the majority of Quentin Tarantino’s pre-“Kill Bill” output.

From this experience, Mr. Doueri learned a lot about pacing, but has left behind Mr. Tarantino’s post-modernism and obsession with revenge. Instead, Mr. Doueri — who first impressed with his film “West Beirut” — has more real-life experience in revenge and endless cycles of recrimination.

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Notes from Underground – ‘No Place on Earth’ a surprising Holocaust doc

Magnolia Pictures photos
Magnolia Pictures photos

What a mother!” says one of the survivors in the Holocaust documentary “No Place on Earth.” Part of a two-family group that survived underground for a year and a half until the Russians defeated the Nazis, this mother, along with uncles and brothers, were extraordinarily resilient. Pure chance also plays its part, which is one of the still scary musings to take from the history of the Holocaust.

Moving at a swift 80 minutes, “No Place on Earth” begins in modern times with Chris Nicola, an amateur spelunker and New Yorker, traveling to the Ukraine to search for his Eastern Orthodox heritage and take in some of the world’s largest gypsum caves. Inside these deep, deep caves accessible through tiny crevices and crawl spaces he finds traces of human habitation from decades, but not centuries, past: pieces of metal, shoes, names written on walls. Nobody in these backwater villages wants to talk, but he soon hears rumors of the “Jews in the cave” from World War II.

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Now that “The Artist” demonstrated that audiences could not only sit still for a silent movie, but could also entertain and win Oscars, getting another silent film funded, shot and distributed got that much easier. And by “that much,” I mean better than zero percent. Fortunately, the Spanish feature “Blancanieves” makes for a worthy addition to this sub-genre of retrofilm, in some ways a response to the death of celluloid and the dominance of the digital image. In several shots in Pablo Berger’s film, there was a hair in the gate, down in the left hand corner, a shocking reminder that this feature is indeed shot of the preferred medium of the 20th century.

The story, however, is straight out of the Brothers Grimm, as it is a Seville-based retelling of “Snow White,” with nods to Disney’s classic retelling. But it is also modern, feminist, and decidedly Spanish tale.

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Michel Bouquet as Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Michel Bouquet as Pierre-Auguste Renoir

To get a lot out of the film “Renoir,” it helps to know a little bit of film history. It helps to know that Jean Renoir, the son of famous impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir, became one of France’s most renowned directors, responsible for “Boudu Saved from Drowning,” “Rules of the Game” and “Grand Illusion,” classics among 1930s films. It also helps to know that Catherine “Andree” Hessling, his first wife and star of his first films, was one of his father’s models.

Otherwise, “Renoir,” directed by Gilles Bourdos and written by Mr. Bourdos with Jerome Tonnerre, may feel like an artist biopic in which the character disappears for much of its running time. The year is 1915 in France, and the first World War rages on, but far enough away from the picturesque Cote d’Azur seaside to not really affect the Renoir household. The painter, ailing from crippling arthritis and wheelchair-bound, is in his last years. To his still-bustling estate comes Andree (Christa Theret), who lies her way into being the latest of Renoir’s models. (She says Mrs. Renoir told her about the job; Mrs. Renoir has passed away) It’s never too clear what she really wants out of the deal, or how far she’s come to get this job, but soon she’s doffing togs and posing. And Renoir, he likes it.

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Strong Title, Weak Message – Climate denialist exposé falls short

This earnest documentary should be proceeded by the famous quote by Upton Sinclair: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” The “something” director, narrator, and occasional star Craig Scott Rosebraugh is talking about is climate change, or as someone recently renamed it, climate chaos. And you know the Koch brothers: the salary can be huge.

With a title like “Greedy Lying Bastards,” one could expect an angry tirade against the control oil and energy companies have over our climate and politics. In fact, that would have been preferable to this documentary, which is honestly a bit of a mess, regardless of whether you agree with its ideology.

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Hot for Knowledge : Just like today, ‘A Royal Affair’ shows’ politics made strange bedfellows in the 19th century too

If you waited ages and ages to get in to see “A Royal Affair” at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival you may be disappointed to know you only had to wait a few more weeks to skip the lines. And if you didn’t get in to see it, well here’s your chance. Nikolag Arcel’s lavish costume drama follows the real-life affair that happened between the English-born Queen Caroline Mathilde of Denmark, and the King’s physician, Dr. Johann Struensee. It’s the kind of sweeping film history-lovers love, but it’s also a complex tale of good intentions and hubris on top of its love-affair plot.

The time is the 18th century, and the place is one of the last European countries trying to stave off the rising tide of the Enlightenment. And we soon see why writers like Voltaire and Rousseau questioned a system that could lead to the childish and insane King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard) running a country. Or at least pretending to: the true power resided in the king’s council, who handed the king laws to rubber stamp, protecting their own interests and damning the peasants.

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Modern Family – ‘Any Day Now’ features great performance, flawed script

From left. Garret Dillahunt, Isaac Leyva and Alan Cumming star in "Any Day Now." Music Box Films photos
From left. Garret Dillahunt, Isaac Leyva and Alan Cumming star in “Any Day Now.”
Music Box Films photos

Any Day Now” sounds like Lifetime movie-of-the-week melodramatic hokum: a couple fight to adopt a child after it is abandoned by its drug-addicted mother. But in Travis Fine’s decent and occasionally moving film, there’s more to this set-up. The couple is a drag queen and a closeted attorney; the child has Down syndrome, and the setting is West Hollywood of the late 1970s.

Veteran actor Alan Cumming plays Rudy, who we first see glammed up and lip sync’ing disco hits alongside two other drag queens on stage in a gay bar. Watching him from the bar is polyester-suited Paul (Garret Dillahunt), a district attorney just starting to find his identity. After a sexual dalliance, it’s love at first sight for Rudy and Paul. Meanwhile, Rudy winds up looking after his neighbor’s child after the cops take the mother away for drug use and fourteen-year-old Marco (Isaac Leyva) wanders away from Family Services custody and finds his way home.

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My Brother From Another Mother – Switched-at-birth tale has pretty locations, pretty decent actors

The two boys meet each other Cohen Media photo
The two boys meet each other
Cohen Media photo

As you may have guessed from the title, Lorraine Levy’s “The Other Son” follows a classic trope of “switched-at-birth” but with a cracking good, though portentous political update. Such narratives make us question nature versus nurture, and there’s plenty of that to go around in this drama. The story stumbles here and there, but there’s enough to recommend it.

We know something’s up when Joseph (Jules Sitruk) is turned down in his medical tests for the Israeli army when his blood type doesn’t match his parents, the army general Alon (Pascal Elbe) and his French wife Orith (Emmanuelle Devos). Turns out that being born during heavy shelling during the Gulf War has resulted in a mix up. Joseph is actually the son of a Palestinian family, Said (Khalifa Natour) and Leila (Areen Omari). This obviously comes as a shock to their son, Yacine (Mehdi Dehbi), who has just returned from medical school in Paris with his baccalaureate.

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Precarious Balance – ‘Late Quartet’ has melodrama aplenty, but also a great Walken performance

Christopher Walken has become such a beloved figure in Western culture, with his wild eyes and imitate-able voice — I’m betting that at least one of your friends, or maybe you, dear reader, can do a great Walken impression — that one can forget how he got to this position. So “Late Quartet,” for all its faults, mostly in the script, serves as a good reminder of his acting skills.

Mr. Walken plays Peter Mitchell, cellist for the Fugue Quartet, a tight-knit (and highly strung) ensemble that is celebrating its 25th year. On second violin and viola respectively, we have the husband-wife team of Robert (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and Juliette (Catherine Keener), and on first violin, and determining the sound of the quartet, there is Daniel (Mark Ivanir), who also instructs Robert and Juliette’s daughter, Alexandra (Imogen Poots).

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