Tag Archives: divorce

CINEMA REVIEW: ANOTHER ROUND (2020)

CINEMA REVIEW: ANOTHER ROUND (2020)

Danish: Druk (2020)

Directed by: Thomas Vinterberg

Produced by: Sisse Graum Jørgensen, Kasper Dissing

Written by: Thomas Vinterberg, Tobias Lindholm

Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang, Lars Ranthe

Music by: Janus Billeskov Jansen

Cinematography: Sturla Brandth Grøvlen

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***


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“First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.” – Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald


I love drinking alcohol. Perhaps TOO MUCH at certain periods of my life. Indeed, for many years I bordered on addictive reliance or at the very least some form of functioning alcoholism. I’ve binge drunk in my life, abstained for weeks and months on what one would call being “on the wagon”, and in a personal experiment I gave booze for almost twelve months in 2019. It was the longest year of my life. Thus, the old adage of doing everything in moderation certainly works for me where alcohol is concerned. It is all about balance.

In the Danish film, Druk (2020), four middle-aged Danish men attempt their own experiment with alcohol. Apparently, stuck in a rut and suffering inertia where work, family and relationships are concerned, they decide to follow a theory by psychiatrist Finn Skårderud, who has posited that having a blood alcohol content of 0.05 makes you more creative and relaxed. So, the rules are put in place as Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Peter (Lars Ranthe) and Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) — all teachers of variant levels at the same school — set about drinking a specific amount of booze to see if their lives improve over time. Fun and games are certainly had as they begin their “theorizing”, with Martin especially finding his teaching and home life improving. Have the four friends found the secret to happiness, or are these just false victories, with alcohol providing a screen to hidden existential pain?


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The film is structured well in establishing the various, admittedly privileged, white males in crisis. Martin’s marriage is crumbling, and his students hate his teaching methods. Tommy lives alone, seemingly overcoming the loss of his partner. Peter appears the most together, but he suffers from a lack of love, while the more academic, Nikolaj, struggles with being an adequate father and husband. As their drinking increases the relative first world problems are not really solved, but become exacerbated as the alcohol exerts a tight grip on them. There are some hilarious scenes where the four get blind drunk and make fools of themselves. However, as they take drink after drink, the demon liquor begins to take them. As the film moves toward the final act, their previous drunken joy leads to both emotional and physical pain. In fact, tragedy is not far away for the friends.

It’s not surprising there are reports of a Hollywood remake because Druk (2020), has a perfect hook and set-up for a classic mid-life crisis comedy. However, with Thomas Vinterberg’s expert direction, evocative natural cinematography, and Mads Mikkelsen giving yet another acting masterclass, the humorous narrative soon leaves the laughs behind to become a bittersweet, yet still uplifting, work of Nordic cinema. I must admit I was slightly disappointed there wasn’t more debate and exploration of the alcoholic experimentation. Because ultimately the theory is used as more of a springboard for the examination of men, friendship and their issues. While Martin is a fine character to lead the journey, overall his story dominance meant the other three, especially Tommy’s arc, were mildly undercooked. Yet, I am nit-picking here, as overall I really enjoyed going a few rounds with my Danish peers and one probably won’t see a more joyous end to a film in many a year and many a beer!

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #11 – HOUNDS OF LOVE (2016)

FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #11 – HOUNDS OF LOVE (2016)

Written and Directed by: Ben Young

Produced by: Melissa Kelly

Cast: Emma Booth, Ashleigh Cummings, Stephen Curry, Harris Gilbertson, Susie Porter, Damian De Montemas, etc.

Music by: Dan Luscombe

Cinematography: Michael McDermott

Edited by: Merlin Eden

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Where narratives relating to rape, abduction, and serial killers are concerned, a filmmaker can tread a fine line between lurid exploitation and absorbing suspense and drama. Low budget B-movies are replete with stories of death, sexual assault and crazed murderers. Some overstep the mark becoming notorious beacons of bad taste. Many horror fans love the exploitational nature of “video nasties”, seeking out films like: Cannibal Holocaust (1980), A Serbian Film (2010), I Spit on Your Grave (1978), Driller Killer (1979), Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and The Last House on the Left (1972), to name but a few. The latter two films directed by horror maestros Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven are arguably exceptional visions of terror which transcend their horror genre subject matter. Similarly, Ben Young’s The Hounds of Love (2016), in my view, represents the evil of human beings without exploiting the actors or audience.

While it may not be as gory on-screen as the films mentioned above, The Hounds of Love (2016), does offer a shattering and sickening set of images and sounds within these savage set of events. Set in Perth, Australia during 1987, this is a disturbing and all too realistic horror story. It opens with a majestic set of slow-motion shots from the point-of-view of suburban couple, Evelyn White (Emma Booth) and John White (Stephen Curry). They sit in their vehicle as the sun hazes and watch teenage girls playing netball in the school yard. They are stalking their next victim; patiently waiting to lure another unsuspecting soul into their nefariously sadistic crimes. Stylistically impressive, but at the same time incredibly unnerving, Ben Young skilfully establishes the canvas on which he will paint further horrors.



Having fed their violent and sexual lust with the opening victim, we are then introduced to their next. Vicki Moloney (Ashleigh Cummings) is a rebellious teenager who is smarting from her parents recent split. Acting with both charisma and defiance, Vicki is slightly annoying, yet empathetic. Obviously, she does not deserve the ordeal she is about to experience at the hands of the Whites. The sequence which finds them cajoling her into their clutches is so tense and had me screaming at the screen, “No!!!! Get out!!!” What follows then, as Vicki becomes a prisoner, is a series of heart-pounding and distressing scenes which raise the stakes to unbearable tension. Ashleigh Cummings performance is absolutely compelling as “final girl”, Vicki. She takes a potentially one-dimensional casualty and imbues her with fight, guile, pain, distress, intelligence and determination. No surprise therefore that she won a Best acting debut award at the Venice Film Festival.

Cummings performance is not the only one which impacts the story greatly. Emma Booth’s complex portrayal of Evelyn is quite startling. This is a character who is permanently on-the-edge and desperate to please her evil partner, John. Systematically controlled and bullied, there is no excuse for Evelyn’s part in the kidnappings and torture of these young girls. But, it is clear to see that toxic masculinity has, over the years contributed to her mental and emotional collapse. Booth’s persistently fraught acting is all bag-of-bones and shredded nerves. It is via Evelyn’s imploding emotional state that Vicki is able to attempt to turn her against John’s venal influence.

Ultimately, one could say this is an exploitation film in terms of theme and story. However, it feels different than the many B-movie serial killer films I have seen. I felt like I was in the hands of a filmmaker who was determined to explore the nature of sadistic relationships in a risky, but intelligent manner. The acting, cinematography, direction and haunting soundtrack all contribute to make this a highly effective psychological thriller. Of course, there are many which may feel differently and that the film has its cake and eats it in term of violence and sexual perversion. Yet, we never actually see much of the cake. Unlike many of the films I mention in the opening paragraph, the audience only see the build-up and aftermath of the crimes. Indeed, what we don’t see on screen is more frightening than what we do. That, overall, is what sets The Hounds of Love (2016) apart from many other films dealing with these unpalatable themes and subjects.

Mark: 9 out of 11



TWO CHARACTERS ON THE EDGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN – FILM REVIEW DOUBLE BILL – HORSE GIRL (2020) + THUNDER ROAD (2018)

HORSE GIRL (2020) + THUNDER ROAD (2018) FILM REVIEWS

Having seen both these fascinating character studies, Horse Girl (2020) and Thunder Road (2018) recently, I was compelled to write a double bill review because similarly they feature: lower budgeted production values, a singularly powerful lead acting performance, characters who have recently lost their mothers, very uncomfortable emotionally charged scenes; as well as both exploring themes relating to mental illness. Thus, I thought it interesting to review the films with these elements in mind.

In regard to mental health, it is quite rightly being addressed more and more in society in a respectful manner. The barriers and prejudices of the past are being eroded and people are talking about it more openly. I have first-hand family experience of someone who has suffered with mental illness. Plus, I have experienced the loss of a close friend to suicide due to debilitating anxiety and have other friends on anti-depressants. I have tried to be of assistance to those people, but it is incredibly difficult to help anyone. Likewise, medical professionals seek various ways of attempting to assist, treat and counsel individuals with mental health problems.

Ultimately, it so tough to deal with such illnesses as they are powerful and invisible. I have utmost empathy for anyone suffering from anxiety, depression and serious mental health problems. It’s such a shame that I feel kind of helpless when it comes to helping people I am close to. It is not always enough to listen and understand, thus professional medical help should be sought and sometimes even that is not enough. It is not surprising therefore that cinema is also exploring such stories and themes.

With Joker (2019), mental illness was examined in a comic book genre setting in a powerful way for me. Some critics felt it trivialised mental illness. I felt that it was, while stylised and theatrical, actually accurate in the disturbing disintegration of Arthur Fleck’s downward mental spiral. Horse Girl (2020) and Thunder Road (2018) are two very different films in terms of genre, but with similar thematic trajectories as Joker (2019). Indeed, while they are independently produced and smaller in scale, they feature two frightening renditions of characters on the verge of a mental breakdown.

***THESE REVIEWS CONTAIN SPOILERS***



HORSE GIRL (2020)

Directed by: Jeff Baena

Written by: Jeff Baena and Alison Brie

Cast: Alison Brie, Molly Shannon, John Reynolds, John Ortiz etc.

Depicting mental illness accurately is a very tricky thing on film in my view. Obviously, we have over the years had all manner of psychotics and mad people chasing and killing others in horror films and thrillers. There have also been many films centred around characters in mental institutions. Some are respectful examinations, but many more could be seen as exploitation films. Horse Girl (2020) is not exploitational, but rather an oddity that falls somewhere between the gaps of arthouse drama and weird character study. Such films are difficult to assess as, however impressive the technical aspects of the production are, the strange events of the film could alienate an audience in terms of entertainment.

Despite Alison Brie’s exceptionally brave performance as Sarah, the narrative consistently disengages you emotionally, taking you to very dark and weird places. Sometimes you have to wonder whether the actor is holidaying in weirdness for the sake of it, or is genuinely drawn to characters who exist with mental issues. Given Brie is an intelligent and highly talented actor, plus she co-wrote the script, you cannot help but feel this is a very personal project. Her portrayal of a shy loner dealing with the suicide of her mother, sleepwalking, day delusions, fragmented time loss and nightmares makes Horse Girl (2020) a disorientating experience. However, in conveying the chaos and frightening nature of mental illness, the film is commendable but tough to recommend.

Mark: 7 out of 11



Thunder Road Jim Cummings

THUNDER ROAD (2018)

Written and directed by: Jim Cummings

Cast: Jim Cummings, Kendal Farr, Nican Robinson, Macon Blair etc.

Talking of films that are difficult to recommend, Jim Cummings self-produced, written, directed and acted film Thunder Road (2018) is another. Rather than giving us, like Horse Girl (2020), an unreliable narrator and escalating series of surreal events seemingly separated from reality, Cummings film deliver very real feelings of embarrassment and anxiety to the audience. Advertised on certain film sites as a comedy-drama, neither the comedy nor drama are conventionally enacted. The film is based around a series of hysterical monologues and stream of consciousness dialogues from Cummings grieving and soon-to-be-divorced troubled cop, Jim Arnaud.

Arnaud’s mental issue is not psychosis, but rather a circumstantial and emotional nervous breakdown precipitated by grief and a personality disorder. The opening scene at a funeral for Arnaud’s mother, is a case in point. Based on his original short film of the same name, Cummings produces a tour-de-force acting exercise in both awkward comedy and distanciation. Subsequently, the film’s narrative events find Arnaud attempting to be a good father, friend and police officer, however, he is constantly on the edge of an angry outburst or outpouring of emotional honesty. His character makes us empathise as he is in grief, but at the same time he’s very difficult to like due to his extreme reactions. Ultimately, as a low budget feature for Jim Cummings acting abilities, Thunder Road (2018) is a compelling character study. However, it’s tough to watch and the slightly misogynistic ending left a sour taste in what was a fascinating emotional exploration of grief and mental instability.

Mark: 7.5 out of 11



MARRIAGE STORY (2019) – NETFLIX FILM REVIEW

MARRIAGE STORY (2019) – NETFLIX FILM REVIEW

Written and Directed by: Noah Baumbach

Produced by: David Heyman, Noah Baumbach

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Julie Hagerty, Azhy Robertson, Merrit Weaver etc.

Cinematography: Robbie Ryan

Distributed by: Netflix

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



I think one of the trickiest things that can hinder a writer, is that doubt whether it is worth telling one’s story. This is especially true of privileged or first world narratives involving wealthy characters or those deemed not having to struggle daily. For me the way to beat such doubt is to write the hell out of your story. Moreover, you’ve got to make the story relevant to all audiences by concentrating on universal themes and creating empathetic characters. Noah Baumbach achieves this by writing and directing the hell out of Marriage Story (2019); a moving drama that focuses on something we can all relate to — a relationship break-up.

The film centres on a couple of creatives, Nicole and Charlie Barber, portrayed by Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver. Charlie is a New York theatre director; Nicole is a Los Angeles actress. They have both been committed to forging successful careers. The film opens brilliantly as they attend relationship mediation, attempting to divorce amicably without the use of lawyers. Baumbach’s superb script starts strongly with each character delivering bittersweet monologues that describe what attracts them most to each other. Sadly, for them and their young son, Henry (Azhy Robertson), mediation fails and it’s not long before they are drawn into the Kafkaesque, manipulative and financially draining American legal system.



This is a gem of a film which finds a seemingly suited couple learning that their differences have slowly been driving a wedge between them. Charlie is a controlled and respected director who has worked his way up from nothing. Nicole is a more privileged, but equally talented actress; however, her free-spirited nature is locked in his shadows. Geographically too they are very different. While he is originally from Indiana, he has made New York his home. Moreover, while his avant garde plays have gained him critical acclaim, she yearns for the sunlight of Los Angeles and the offer of TV work. Thus, through sheer brilliance of the writing we, in a short period of time, understand and empathise with both characters’ situations.

As the narrative develops Baumbach’s script is brought to life with two incredible central performances by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. They imbue Nicole and Charlie with a humanity and warmth, that even when we do not agree with their actions, we are still with them. As the story was inspired by his own divorce, Baumbach cares very much about these people. Indeed, he gives each actor the chance to shine during a number of fine monologues, bitter exchanges and heartfelt scenes of acceptance and potential reconciliation. Further, the supporting cast members are also really great too. Ray Liotta as a bitter shark of a lawyer and Laura Dern, as his legal adversary, have some wonderfully biting lines of dialogue. Meanwhile, Alan Alda, as Charlie’s other legal representative, is arguably too nice and avuncular for this cutthroat business. Together these collective legal minds, while shining a plausibly negative light on divorce proceedings, added strong energy to the comedy and drama of the film.

Ultimately, I have always respected Noah Baumbach’s films because he is a very solid independent writer and director. However, with Marriage Story (2019), he has matured beyond belief to create a compelling and funny relationship drama. It is full of standout scenes, with Adam Driver ever impressing and Scarlett Johansson delivering the best performance of her career. Lastly, as someone who has experienced a very difficult break-up involving a child, I felt every moment of grief, heartache, humour, love and relief on the screen. Yet, it’s worth reliving those moments because you know you survived; and so will Charlie, Nicole and their son, Henry.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11