Film Review of the Week


Another Round (12A)

Review: I’ve never enjoyed the taste of alcohol. Consequently, sobriety has been my steadfast companion for 47 years aside from one ritualistic shot of honey-flavoured Yukon Jack whisky garnished with a mummified human toe to earn my membership of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club in Canada. Without the tangy personal experience of a tipsy indiscretion or hangover, it’s hard for me to challenge Norwegian philosopher and psychologist Finn Skarderud, who hypothesises that humans are born with a 0.05% blood alcohol level shortfall. His theory – that a sustained increase in blood alcohol content (BAC) promotes relaxation, creativity and openness – is rigorously tested by four disillusioned teachers in Thomas Vinterberg’s Oscar-winning coming-of-middle age comedy drama.

The men gather data for an academic study to determine if regular swigs of wine, whisky and vodka can improve communication with their students and plaster cracks in their personal lives. The only stipulation is they must not drink after 8pm or at weekends – maintaining a 0.05% BAC during the working week purely to validate the scientific theory. Dedicated to the memory of Danish writer-director Vinterberg’s teenage daughter, who died during filmmaking, Another Round enthusiastically chugs down its refreshing premise, imbued with delicate notes of romance, tragedy and joy. Mads Mikkelsen anchors the central cast with an emotionally rich and layered performance as a family man, who fears he has become entrenched in monotonous patterns after a carefree youth that promised much until fatherhood forced him to choose security over ambition.

He plays history teacher Martin, whose bored students struggle to follow his haphazard lessons, which are sometimes delivered verbatim from a well-thumbed textbook. His marriage to wife Anika (Maria Bonnevie) is stagnant – she works night shifts – and sons Jonas (Magnus Sjorup) and Kasper (Silas Cornelius Van) barely register his presence. During a 40th birthday meal for fellow teacher Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) with colleagues Peter (Lars Ranthe) and Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), the men debate Skarderud’s hypothesis and forge a secret pact to drink their way out of a rut.

The experiment delivers encouraging initial results: Martin’s students become engaged, music teacher Peter channels a choir’s sweet harmony and sports master Tommy bolsters the footballing prowess of an uncoordinated weakling named Specs. “I haven’t felt this good in ages,” gushes Martin, who proposes they all increase their BAC above 0.05%.

Another Round is a life-affirming and crowd-pleasing cocktail that slips down sweetly, even with a generous glug of salty tears in the film’s second half. Handheld camerawork courtesy of cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grovlen feels intimate and natural. It’s a perfect fit as teachers’ lives spin out of control and the script, co-written by Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm, soberly acknowledges the perils of excessive drinking. Raise a glass and toast Vinterberg’s bittersweet, intoxicating brew.

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Freaky (15)

Review: A petite teenage girl swaps bodies with a hulking male serial killer in director Christopher Landon’s horror comedy, which puts a gleefully ghoulish spin on the beloved children’s novel Freaky Friday penned by Mary Rodgers. The gruesome opening sequence appropriates every mothballed genre trope, characters who foolishly separate from the pack or have sex are doomed to a grisly fate, and quickly establishes the antagonist’s unquenchable thirst for blood. “Don’t underestimate a white man’s propensity for violence,” comments one soon-to-be-victim, which alludes to the film’s bogeyman and is also a self-referential wink from screenwriters Landon and Michael Kennedy.

Almost every knife, chainsaw, hook and spear hits its intended target and the camera seldom flinches from showing freshly hacked limbs and bludgeoned heads in sticky close-up. Macabre humour has a higher miss rate but there is a surprising sweetness to amusingly romantic scenes between a sensitive jock and the heroine while she is trapped inside a middle-aged man’s body. Kathryn Newton and Vince Vaughn enthusiastically embrace the duality of their roles, the latter furiously fluttering eyelids as he captures the inner awkwardness and fragility of a girl recovering from the death of her father.

Meek, mild-mannered Blissfield Valley High School student Millie Kessler (Newton) is desperate to please other people, especially her widowed alcoholic mother (Katie Finneran). Woodwork teacher Mr Bernardi (Alan Ruck) and fellow students bully her mercilessly and Millie can’t muster the courage to approach her classmate crush, Booker (Uriah Shelton). Thankfully, best friends Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich) provide emotional ballast as she contemplates a college application that would take her far away. After a homecoming football game, where Millie fulfils duties as the school mascot, a dancing beaver, she is attacked by the Blissfield Butcher (Vaughn).

He inflicts a non-fatal wound with an Aztecan sacrificial dagger, stolen from one victim’s home. At midnight as storm clouds swirl, Millie and the killer trade bodies. The Blissfield Butcher is delighted. He can slay with impunity in the guise of a sweet girl and “murder Barbie” doles out bloodthirsty justice to Millie’s tormentors. Meanwhile, Millie now has the face of a killer whose sketched likeness is on every TV news channel and she has just 24 hours to reverse the curse and evade her police officer sister (Dana Drori).

Freaky is an entertaining, gender-bending teen slasher that milks decent laughs from its fantastical premise. Jolts are sporadic yet satisfying and the make-up department certainly does not stint on the gloop and entrails as Blissfield’s mortuary overflows with eviscerated cast. Initial comedic reaction to the body swap is depressingly predictable, The Butcher grabs his teenage breasts while Millie explores her new appendage, but once the script has the sniggering off its system, Landon’s picture settles into a gory groove.

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French Exit (15)

Review: Adapted by Patrick DeWitt from his 2018 novel, French Exit is a bile-slathered tragicomedy of social manners that gifts Michelle Pfeiffer a career-revitalising lead role as an acid-tongued heiress facing financial ruin. Armed with a dizzying array of one-liners that DeWitt’s script polishes to a lustre, the Californian actress delivers a masterclass in withering stares, pursed lips and swingeing insults as the clucking hens of New York high society peck over rumours of her downfall. “I’ve no need of friends in my life… at the moment,” she coldly informs one admirer over the rim of a martini glass.

Pfeiffer’s waspish widow has breathed rarefied air for so long, she feels no compulsion to trade niceties. When a rude waiter delays bringing a bill to take a cigarette break, she registers displeasure by setting alight a tiny vase of flowers on the table. As a woman of dwindling means behaving badly, Pfeiffer endears us to her monstrous creation, especially in the second half of director Azazel Jacobs’ picture when a menagerie of wilfully eccentric supporting characters and curious narrative detours, including a love triangle resolved by an arm wrestle, compete for attention. Ultimately, it’s a social whirl too far but Pfeiffer glides serenely through the devastation and retains composure when the fabric of the film is tearing at the seams.

Following the sudden death of her husband Franklin (Tracy Letts), Manhattan heiress Frances Price (Pfeiffer) discusses her impending insolvency with her financial adviser (Robert Higden). “My plan was to die before the money ran out,” she coolly confides, “but I kept and keep on not dying.” Thriftier with words and feelings than her husband’s fortune, Frances agrees to discreetly sell off her belongings, convert the proceeds to cash and relocate to a vacant Parisian apartment owned by her one true friend, Joan (Susan Coyne).

Frances’ emotionally stunted son Malcolm (Lucas Hedges) terminates an engagement to his bewildered fiancee (Imogen Poots) and accompanies his mother and the family cat, Little Frank, on a transatlantic boat crossing to the French capital. The Prices ease into their new life and accept a party invitation from New York transplant Madame Reynard (Valerie Mahaffey), who admits to being desperately lonely. Frances’ resistance to Mme Reynard gradually wilts and the heiress expands her inner circle to include a private detective (Isaach de Bankole) and psychic medium (Danielle Macdonald), who can communicate with Frank’s spirit housed inside the cat.

French Exit savours every moment that Pfeiffer slinks on screen, elegantly navigating her character’s misfortunes with screwball flourishes. Hedges is a likable foil as the aimless scion, who barely knew his mother before he was 12. Director Jacobs follows the recipe of Mme Reynard’s cassoulet, slow-cooking fine ingredients and garnishing with sprigs of satire.

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