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***
“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?
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!
In keeping with my theme of branching out and watching different subscribers, last month I paid around £4.99 extra for the ARROW VIDEO CHANNEL via AMAZON PRIME. This gave me access to a whole host of good, bad and very weird films. There are some newish films on there, but mainly the channel contains vintage horror, arthouse and cult movies. This was a good old trip down memory lane for me as it meant I re-watched loads of films which were considered part of the 1980’s “video nasties” era. I also watched a number of films I had never seen before.
If you didn’t know ARROW FILMS is a leading independent entertainment distribution company. Established in 1991, it is dedicated to supporting upcoming and established filmmakers of dynamic new cinema and developing a slate of fantastic films from all around the globe. Moreover, they are also a leading restorer of classic and cult films and enjoy releasing anniversary celebrations of landmark titles. You’ll find some films of both incredible and dubious quality. Safe to say though, such releases are never boring. Lastly, ARROW are never frightened to distribute films previously banned, unreleased or heavily censored. They are true pioneers in the world of cinema. Check out their website here!
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
THE HORROR! THE HORROR!
If, like me, you love horror films then an Arrow subscription is essential. But before I get onto those, they also have a decent roster of world cinema films. Directors such as Krzysztof Kieślowski, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Susanne Bier, Thomas Vinterberg, Marjane Satrapi, Vittorio De Sica, David O. Russell, Hirokazu Koreeda, Richard Kelly, Bruce Robinson, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Nagisha Oshima have many of their works distributed by Arrow online and via DVD or BLU-RAY. Indeed, I recently watched and loved Kieslowski’s BLIND CHANCE (1987) and Oshima’s MERRY CHRISTMAS MR LAWRENCE (1983). on the Arrow channel.
Yet, it was mainly the horror and cult movies I concentrated on during my month’s sojourn into Arrow’s back catalogue. Thus, here are some mini-reviews and marks out of eleven for the numerous films I watched.
THE BEYOND (1981)
Insane, surreal and with some incredibly gory deaths, this is perhaps Lucio Fulci’s most illogical, but brilliant film. The imagery and music collude to both sicken and chill in equal measures. It also has one of the most haunting final scenes in horror cinema. Mark: 8 out of 11
THE BLACK CAT (1981)
A truly dreadful adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s story which is contemporised badly by Lucio Fulci and his scriptwriters. I dislike cats generally and this revenge story does nothing to appease such negativity. Mark: 2.5 out of 11
THE BURNING (1981)
Pretty decent gore-fest which, while written before FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980), suffers mildly in comparison to that murdered-teenagers-at-camp classic. Famous for being produced by the Weinstein’s and early acting appearances from Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens and Holly Hunter. Mark: 7.5 out of 11
Truly terrible, but actually “so-bad-it’s-entertaining” mash-up of ALIEN (1979) and the 007 Bond franchise. Dodgy effects, acting and dubbing make this Italian B-movie laughably enjoyable. Mark: 5.5 out of 11
DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING (1972)
An earlier Lucio Fulci film which actually has a decent plot and some disturbing, but compelling scenes and themes. Centred amidst a rural Italian setting, a murderer is running amok killing the village children. A reporter sets out to uncover the murderer as villagers begin to suspect the kids died at the hands of witchcraft. Mark: 7.5 out of 11
THE EXTERMINATOR (1980)
I used to revel in this nasty B-movie revenge film as a teenager. The school yard would have hives of thirteen-year olds chattering about the Doberman attack scene, pimps set on fire and the gangster killed in a meat grinder. Watching it back now, it truly is a terrible piece of filmmaking and an extremely lurid viewing experience. For all its derivative faults, I still loved it! Mark: 7 out of 11
Clive Barker’s cult horror classic is not so much about narrative coherence, but an assault on the senses. That damned mysterious and devilish “Rubik’s cube” is opened, giving way to a whole host of demonic monsters breaking Earth’s dimensions and threatening an Anglo-American family. Powerful visuals, incredibly effective prosthetics and brilliant nemeses in Frank and Pinhead, make HELLRAISER (1987) an extremely memorable low-budget horror cult classic. Mark: 8 out of 11
HELLRAISER II: HELLBOUND (1988)
A direct sequel to the original, but without Clive Barker directing this time unfortunately. HELLBOUND (1988) has some wonderful gore and monstrous moments as Kenneth Cranham’s mad doctor opens up the hellish gates to the beyond. But the surreal storytelling is so deranged and ridiculous I was just laughing by the end. Mark: 5.5 out of 11
MANIAC COP (1988)
I love a lot of Larry Cohen’s work, but this is arguably only a minor B-movie script from him. The clue is in the title really as a vengeful cop goes on a kill crazy rampage in the dark recesses of the city. Notable for Bruce Campbell’s turn as a bemused cop suspected of the crimes, plus the impactful silent giant of a killer. Mark: 6 out of 11
THE NEW YORK RIPPER (1982)
While I do not agree with censorship as a rule, I can see why this Lucio Fulci United States shocker was banned in Britain for many years. It is disgustingly violent and misogynistic, verging on pornography in many scenes. The biggest crime is it’s so badly made from a capable filmmaker. Avoid at all costs! Mark: 1 out of 11
RAWHEAD REX (1986)
A gigantic phallic cock-monster called ‘Rawhead’ is woken near an Irish village and kills anyone who gets in his way. Another Clive Barker short story gets a film adaptation and this is awful in every way! Barker hated it and that led to him taking more control of HELLRAISER (1987). Lacking narrative context and even basic filmmaking skills, we are in the “so bad it’s hilarious” camp here. Mark: 3 out of 11
RED EYE (2005)
A rare diversion away from the horror genre finds Wes Craven directing Cillian Murphy, Rachel McAdams and Brian Cox in this fast-paced airplane-set thriller. I had never seen this film before as McAdams and Murphy provide committed performances while possessing excellent on-screen chemistry. Extremely suspenseful for the most part until it gives way to huge explosions and shootouts at the end. Great fun overall! Mark: 7.5 out of 11
I have to admit that I am not a big fan of Dario Argento’s films generally. I find them imaginative, but mostly loud and nonsensical. Moreover, they have little in the way of suspense or actual scares. TENEBRAE (1982) is another empty Argento exercise in misogyny and style-over-substance as an American writer finds himself pitted against a vicious killer copying murders from his novels. There are some decent horror moments, but the twist is too self-knowing and ridiculous to not find laughable. Mark: 6 out of 11
THE WITCH THAT CAME FROM THE SEA (1976)
Now, this is a weird film. Part-revenge-part-feminist-part-porn-part-horror story that was also banned in Britain as a video-nasty. Millie Perkins gives a haunting performance as a psychologically damaged individual, who is so disturbed by a childhood trauma she kills when in sexual congress. It’s almost a really good film because the characterisation and motivation is well conceived. However, it’s also rather eccentrically acted and directed in places, so approach with great caution. Mark: 6 out of 11
ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS (1979)
This classic zombie exploitation from Lucio Fulci is one I’ve seen many times. While not quite as good as the Romero classics in terms of story and theme, it has so many unforgettably bloody scenes. The moment when a zombie attacks a shark is a horror set-piece you will never forget. As Fulci rips off Romero he spins the undead genre into a frenzy with relentless dirt, maggots, sinew, bone and guts on screen, all the while accompanied by a creepy score by Giorgio Tucci. Mark: 8 out of 11
ZOMBIE FOR SALE (2019)
The most contemporary film I watched from Arrow Video is a riotously funny and moving rom-zom-com from Korea. A rural family find a way of making money out of a zombie who has escaped a science laboratory, however, their get-rich-quick-scheme backfires with bloody hilarious results. While it is overlong, it benefits from a clever script and excellent acting, although it over-does the slow motion scenes and jarring narrative tonal switches. Mark: 8 out of 11
You know the drill. I pick an actor and have a gander at some of the finest roles in their cinematic/televisual Curriculum Vitae.
For my latest tribute I have a look at the mercurial Mads Mikkelsen; a Danish actor who has impressed me more and more in each role I have seen him in. Here’s FIVE of his finest moments.
***CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS***
CASINO ROYALE (2006)
Mikkelsen was an awesome Bond villain in Daniel Craig’s first outing playing the shifty-banker-come-gambling-addict Le Chiffre. A fantastic Ian Fleming creation, here he’s visualized with classic bleeding tear duct, pitch black hair, and shark-eyed deadpan stare. Mikkelsen’s ability to convey a callous cold demeanour provided a perfect counterpoint to the free-running energy, muscularity and snarling passion of Craig. Furthermore, Mikkelsen’s intelligence, angularity and range allow him to play striking villains and ALMOST have you rooting for them.
FLAME AND CITRON (2009)
This is a thrilling Danish WW2 story charting the exploits of Danish Resistance fighters/assassins codenamed Flammen and Citron. Mikkelsen portrays Jorgen, the latter of the partnership as he and compatriot Bendt laid waste to Nazis and their Danish collaborators amidst the German occupation. Mikkelsen is very good at playing smooth characters but here he’s nervy, dirty, sweaty and living-on-the-edge. He brings his classic mournful look to a character fighting inner demons, traitors and Nazis; all the while trying to cling to the family he loves. War brought the worst and best out of people; sometimes at exactly the same time as this film ably illustrates.
HANNIBAL (TV – 2013 – 2015)
It took me a couple of attempts to get into Gaumont/NBC’s lavish adaptation of Thomas Harris’ iconic characters and indeed I bailed watching it the first time round as I didn’t get it. However, buoyed by fan-boy admiration for Mads and also encouraged by my American girlfriend I tried again and have just whipped through the first two seasons of a killing, cooking and bloody-curdling TV feast. Mikkelsen plays an elegant, urbane and vampiric Hannibal Lecter far removed from the over-the-top-grand-theatrics of the brilliant Anthony Hopkins. His pursuers are once again Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and Jack Crawford (Lawrence Fishburne) as they attempt to track down a number of serial-killers all knocking about the United States of Annihilation.
There is death and blood galore in this series all presented via a beautifully shot and very artistic editing design full of surreal imagery and Rorschach-style montage. Mikkelsen as Lecter is a delight as he kills and grills his victims with epicurean aplomb. If you like gory imagery, psychological mind games and gothic narrative then this is the show for you. Mikkelsen excels as usual as he can convey a moment of pure evil and black humour with a single look or gesture. He’s also no stranger to cannibalistic characters having played a sympathetic yet murderous meat-man in the Danish black comedy Green Butchers (2003). Bring on Season 3!
THE HUNT (2012)
This is one of the best dramas I have seen in a long time. Mikkelsen is a well-respected Primary teacher in a middle-class Danish village. Following a seemingly innocuous incident with a young girl he is suddenly accused of being a paedophile. The matter escalates and escalates as he is shunned by those around him and he becomes isolated while protesting his innocence. Mikkelsen is incredible as this tortured pariah who is terrorized by the equivalent of villagers with torches and pitchforks pursuing a monstrous Frankenstein creation to its doom. The genius of this challenging film is creating an antagonist out of a kindergarten child’s blurred memory subsequently fuelled by fervent and fundamentalist mob rule. It’s arguably Mikkelsen’s finest performance; full of nuance and pathos as his character Lucas suffers a kind of modern day Kafkaesque ordeal. Deservedly he won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival.
PUSHER (1996)/PUSHER II (2004)
Mikkelsen’s debut was in Nicolas Winding Refn’s gritty drug drama Pusher where he played the scumbag Tonny; a lowlife mate of dealer Frank. He certainly made an impact because when Refn made a sequel he put forth Tonny as the main character of the story. Pusher II is even more relentlessly grim than the original featuring all manner of dumb, lower-class hoods trying to scrape gold from Copenhagen streets paved mainly with smack and dog-shit. It’s an unglamorous and honest realisation of criminal-life with a lot in common with Scorcese’s Mean Streets (1973), as low-level pushers fuck one another over on a regular basis.
Mikkelsen’s Tonny is a tragic character who is left rudderless by a manipulative father and just cannot cut a break due to both his own lack of intelligence or positive role models. Tonny’s portrayed like a blind dumb bear chained to a metal stake swiping at those around him as he attempts to find the means to escape or redemption only to realise he’s all alone in the dark. Never has there been so much sympathy for a movie thug like Tonny as Mikkelsen extracts every bit of humanity he can from the poor beast.
I didn’t watch that many movies in May as I have been theming my viewing to British TV productions, so it was quality rather than quantity this month and with a big Antipodean feel.
As usual Marks out of Eleven follow the little review.
***MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD***
BLACK SEA (2014) – SKY MOVIE STORE
Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn, David Threlfall, Scoot McNairy, Michael Smiley and a motley crew of Russians go down into the deep, dark recesses of the black ocean in search of Nazi gold. This effective B-movie is essentially The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948) set underwater. The cast are excellent plus there are some thrilling and suspenseful scenes as greed and nationalist rivalry poisons the water amidst a series of disasters which strike the crew. This is perfect viewing for a damp Tuesday evening while eating pizza and drinking a beer. (Mark: 7/11)
CLOUDS OF SIL MARIA (2014) – SKY MOVIE STORE
This is the kind of intellectual-artsy-actor-fest that middle-class viewers and critics wank themselves lyrical about in the broadsheet press and online. Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed the triptych of performances from Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart and Chloe Grace Moritz and the filmmaker Olivier Assayas tackles some interesting themes about identity, modern culture, death, aging, and the nature of performance. However, it’s pretty one-paced and has a head-scratching Bunuelian turn at the end of the second act which made no sense; I imagine that was the point. I didn’t even care enough to be perplexed as it just washed over me on the main with neither enough drama or comedy to get my teeth into. Some beautiful vistas and scenery though. (Mark: 6.5/11)
FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD (2015) – CINEMA
Apart from the moron-head who decided to eat crisps really loudly in the seat near me during the opening 10 minutes, I really enjoyed this wonderfully shot romantic drama from impressive filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg. Based on Thomas Hardy’s classic novel it stars Carey Mulligan as the fiercely independent Bathsheba who goes against the social tide of the time and attempts to run a successful farm despite the backward sexual politics.
This is a romantic period drama that even blokes can enjoy as the subject matter eschews the fluffery of Jane Austen for the harsher side of rural life. It’s Thomas Hardy-light with a brisk 120 minutes run through the narrative as Bathsheba is courted by three men of varying social standing and characterisation. Performances are top notch, notably from Michael Sheen as the pained William Boldwood and ever-sparkling Carey Mulligan. Matthias Schoenaerts, a striking Belgian actor, is also outstanding as the sturdy Gabriel Oak. (Mark: 8/11)
GALLIPOLI (1981) – BFI – CINEMA
I grew up watching this film; usually on a Sunday evening on BBC2 and when I saw it was screening at the BFI I jumped at the chance to watch it. It is a heart-wrenching World War One story concerning the Western Australian men who left their families to fight against the Turkish army during the brutal conflict. It follows two lads portrayed by Mark Lee and cusp-of-stardom Mel Gibson who at first are rival sprinters and then brothers-in-arms as they venture overseas to fight.
The screenplay is sinewy and powerful yet with much humour, as it builds their friendship from the outback to the trenches culminating in a truly tragic final reel. Peter Weir announced further his credentials as a filmmaker of high quality and the cinematography by Russell Boyd is a wonder. I also loved the use of music here which employs both modern synthesized pieces from Jean-Michel Jarre and marries it to more classical compositions by Strauss and Giazotto/Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor. This is up there with my favourite Anti-War films of all time; majestic cinema at its peak. (Mark: 11/11)
MAD MAX (1979)/MAD MAX: ROAD WARRIOR (1981) – NOW TV
I watched these kinda back-to-back with my teenage son and despite their age and low budgets both films stand up to further viewings. In fact, George Miller’s seminal violent-explosive-car-chase-revenge-punk-urban-westerns are best watched as a double bill.
In the first film Max is a hardened road cop who wants out so he can be with his young family. The roads have become a deadly place full of psychotic punks and sociopathic maniacs who rail against society without cause or reason. When Max is left a shell-of-a-man he goes after the gangs which done him wrong with rage-in-his-eyes and hell in his soul. This is an awesome film with more imagination, energy and pace than most bigger-budget blockbusters.
With Max’s character established so well the second film Miller throws an Apocalyptic curveball into the mix as we find future Max — a lone road warrior (aside from his Dog) — fighting even crazier road punks over ever-decreasing amounts of petrol. Mel Gibson really shines as the amoral leather-bound-petrol-head who gets dragged into the outback carmegeddon between a group of settlers and baddies led by the helmeted Lord Humungus. This film rocks big-time and is one of the greatest action-come-road movies ever and one which confirmed Gibson as a major movie star of the 80s! (Double-bill Mark: 10/11)
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015) – CINEMA
Tom Hardy takes on the iconic Max Rockatansky role in this revved-up-mega-budget-future-shooting-guitar-flame-throwing-blood-draining-crash-smash-and-burn epic. Haunted by past failure Max drives round the wasteland trying to survive. Suddenly he’s whisked away to be a mobile blood-bank at The Citadel and used to keep the cancerous War Boys alive with his pure blood. Enter Charlize Theron’s kick-ass Furiosa who is on a mission of her own to protect those she cares for from nefarious Immortan Joe; the Citadel Overlord!
There isn’t really any plot to speak of on the Fury Road but what you get is an incredible visual feast with carnage galore and some incredible stunts in a barren yet beautiful desert setting. Hardy and Theron share great chemistry within the action and Miller executes some mesmerising moments of dialogue-free pure cinema. One may argue that it is style-over-substance but the style IS the substance. The concepts on show such as the flame-throwing guitar; moving blood-banks; mud-people on stilts; assorted pimped-up cars and souped-up weapons are what impresses. As such George Miller proves himself a visionary filmmaker who owns the post-apocalypse on screen making it a terrifying and stunning experience. (Mark: 9.5/11)
MR TURNER (2014) – BLU RAY
I love Mike Leigh films. Most of them anyway. His unique slice-of-life style is quietly confident and steady and even if not much is happening one is often awestruck by colour, mood, composition, character and performance in his work. Indeed, Timothy Spall is on terrifically grouchy form as celebrated painter J. M. W. Turner and the supporting cast is equally brilliant.
I was mesmerized by the film’s composition and the glacial pace worked in the films’ favour as Leigh paints (sorry) an honest picture of Turner’s later years, artistic process and his relationships. I was surprised that the old dog was quite a philanderer but then again I didn’t know much about Turner if I’m honest. This is like walking round a beautiful-looking moving gallery and just breathing in the genius of Turner, Spall and Leigh. (Mark: 8/11)
But to recap: this is a sensational pitch black character piece that allies a powerful script with violent social satire; all glued together by an Oscar-worthy lead performance from the ever-excellent actor Jake Gyllenthaal. Indeed, he should have got AT LEAST a nomination for his performance as news-media-ladder-crawler sociopathic Lou Bloom. On re-watch this film is just as powerful and I was in awe of the incredible script, great acting, cutting direction and black humour throughout. Highly recommended. (Mark: 10/11)
OUIJA (2014) – BLU RAY
This film is a terrible movie; probably the worst I’ve seen all year. It follows a vague Final Destination structure as a series of college kids are wiped out by a demonic force that has “escaped” a Ouija Board. There are no redeeming qualities whatsoever and the most interesting fact I can tell you is that the original Ouija Board was in fact a game. No, I didn’t know that either. Yeah, and the rights to the board game were owned by Parker Brothers and now Hasbro. It was only in 1930s/40s onwards America that it was used by occultists and spiritualists. Who knows: perhaps people will one day be contacting the ‘other side’ using Transformers? You never know on this crazy planet! (Mark 1/11)