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Feature


A pair of socially-challenged siblings discover they are adopted half-brothers in their late father's videotaped will. Their journey in search of their true father takes them to the small, insular Danish island of Ork, where they stumble upon three additional half-brothers – each also sporting hereditary harelips and lunatic tendencies – living in a dilapidated mansion overrun by barn animals. Initially unwelcome by their newfound kin, the two visitors stubbornly wear them down until they're reluctantly invited to stay. As the misfit bunch get to know each other, they unwittingly uncover a deep family secret that ultimately binds them together. (From Drafthouse’s official synopsis)

 Men & Chicken
Sometimes, when someone finds out that I review movies on home video, they ask me for a recommendation. As I realize that I’m talking to a normal person that doesn’t watch 600 movies per year and just wants to be entertained, I tend to censor myself. I end up suggesting something I didn’t like all that much, because I don’t want to be responsible for someone showing their poor grandma The Neon Demon or Belladonna of Sadness. Anders Thomas Jensen’s Men & Chicken (Danish: Mænd & høns) is definitely going on my ‘censored list.’ As a director, Jensen’s work is new to me. His only other feature-length movies are a gangster drama called Flickering Lights (Danish: Blinkende lygter, 2000), a dark comedy called The Green Butchers (Danish: De grønne slagtere, 2003), and a very well-received dramedy called Adam's Apples (Danish: Adams æbler, 2005). However, as a writer only, he worked on some pretty prestigious projects, including Saul Dibb’s The Duchess (2008), Susanne Bier’s Brothers (Danish: Brødre, 2004; remade by Jim Sheridan in 2009), Kristian Levring’s The Salvation (2014), and Lars von Trier’s Antichrist (as story supervisor, 2009).

Being unfamiliar with modern Danish cinema in general, I’m only able to compare Men & Chicken to Mikkel Nørgaard’s Klown (also released on US video by Drafthouse Films, 2010) and the accompanying television series. I suppose that this kind of cringe-porn comedy, in which outrageous/grotesque/offensive events are enacted by a stone-faced cast, is a particularly popular subgenre in the region. I personally appreciate Jensen’s version of this ‘genre,’ because it is more narratively-driven. Jensen sort of uses H. G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau as a vague template and unveils plot-points with the grace of a mystery thriller or even an episode of the Twilight Zone, yet still makes time for extended sequences where goony characters beat the hell out of each other with increasingly ridiculous objects. Man & Chicken also has a warm streak beneath the chronic masterbation and chicken-raping jokes and much of the credit goes to the cast. Admittedly, part of the film’s appeal is seeing super-cool Mads Mikkelsen portraying a compulsive social misfit, but he’s only one part of an ensemble of tragic creatures. David Dencik is the closest thing to a main character and he’s left playing a comparatively thankless role of the straight man that anchors the entire story. Nicolas Bro is Jesen’s secret weapon, though, as the philosophy & science-spouting, ‘atomically-challenged’ Joseph, who makes the most of his comparatively short screen time.

 Men & Chicken

Video


Men & Chicken was shot with digital HD cameras, though I can’t find any specs stating which brand was used. This 1080p, 2.40:1 transfer biggest challenge is the surprisingly dark and gritty photography Jensen and cinematographer Sebastian Blenkov chose for their quirky comedy. This look leads to considerable degree of digital noise, which is then slightly aggravated by compression effects – specifically, blotting in neutral gradations and some vertically strafing artefacts. This isn’t a huge problem for texture or hard lines, though, because the transfer is still as sharp as it can be, considering the use of shallow and shifting focus. Another strange thing about this movie is the fact that Jensen & Belnkov chose to press purple and green hues. The set design, costumes, and colour-timing all follow this same sort of sickly palette. The colouration doesn’t completely eliminate other hues – to the contrary, greens are lush and blues are quite natural – but it is clearly part of the filmmakers’ design. I assume that the point was to make the audience uncomfortable with what they were watching, even when cringe-worthy events aren’t occurring.

Audio


Men & Chicken is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and its original Danish language. Of course, you wouldn’t know that from reading the box art or menus, because none of the codecs are identified. Also, note that, for whatever reason, the disc defaults to an uncompressed stereo track, so you have to select the 5.1 option. Inconvenience aside, it’s a perfectly decent dialogue-driven track. The performances are clean and consistent without any unnatural side effects. Natural ambience is minor and usually relegated to the center channel, but it’s busy enough to give the world around the characters a little life. A few sequences stand out, due to busy environmental cues; for example, the scene where Mikkelsen’s character wanders the halls of the ‘barn’ and the clucks, bleats, and moos of the animals fill out the stereo/surround channels. Frans Bak and Jeppe Kaas’ music is used sparingly, but sounds rich and warm, thanks to the LFE.

Extras


The only extras are a trailer and trailers for other Drafthouse Films releases.

 Men & Chicken

Overall


Men & Chicken is a dip in the deep end of absurdist movie-making with a genuinely touching side that might be enough to engage mainstream viewers, but it’s certainly not what I’d consider mainstream material. I certainly enjoyed it, though, and assume other film fans looking for something to contrast blockbusters and awards bait will too. The video quality of Drafthouse’s Blu-ray is slightly problematic, but I’m pretty sure this is mostly and intentional look. The bigger disappointment is the lack of extras, because the people that made this movie must have had other interesting things to say.

 Men & Chicken

 Men & Chicken

 Men & Chicken

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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