Another Round

Mads Mikkelsen seems to have made excellent choices throughout his career. Starting off in the captivating ‘Pusher Trilogy’ directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, he went on to quickly find commercial success as a particularly sinister bond villain. His turn as the eponymous protagonist in the TV series Hannibal sustained his global reputation as a talented character actor. Recently he has stayed relevant by working in his native Denmark with Thomas Vinterberg, the co-founder of the Dogme 95 movement.

Vinterberg has directed Mikkelsen before in The Hunt, which won him a Best Actor award at Cannes Film Festival 2012. The Hunt follows a man who becomes the target of mass hysteria after being wrongly accused of sexually abusing a child in his kindergarten class. Vinterberg often deals with controversial or risky themes, a bold director who is not afraid to shock. His 1998 work Festen explores family tragedy and adheres to the striped-down rules of Dogme 95, it is a thoroughly engaging film which is sometimes difficult to watch.

Another Round won both the BAFTA for best film not in the English language, and the Oscar for best international feature. It is a deeply personal film dedicated to Vinterberg’s daughter who tragically died in a car crash just as production began. It doesn’t have the same level of poignant and controversial moments as Festen, but rather mixes profound and playful scenes in equal measure.

The film follows three bored high school teachers as they test Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud’s suggestion that the human body has an inbuilt alcohol deficiency (e.g we need a certain level of alcohol to function normally). They start to drink in small quantities at work, and initially find positive results as they become better communicators, free from anxiety. As the three friends create rules and draw up a comprehensive report, we are reminded of the strict guidelines and approach used in the Dogme 95 doctrine that defined a generation of Danish filmmakers.

The films frenetic and engaging opening with the “lake run” (a student ritual involving on-the-hoof beer drinking) hooks the audience immediately. There are several more joyous scenes throughout, I particularly enjoyed watching three middle-aged friends dance to The Meters Cissy Strut as they consume homemade cocktails, as well as Mikkelsen performing Jazz ballet among celebrating graduates.  But let’s not kid ourselves, ultimately there are tragic consequences as the trio up their dosage and become more and more reliant on intoxication. 

This film includes the full gamit of ups and downs that is life. Perhaps the point for all of us is to enjoy in moderation. There is no magic answer.


Discovering the trailer for ‘Apples’ on my Facebook feed not long ago, I immediately knew I wanted to see it. The director, Christos Nikou, has been billed in the description as ‘The Man of The Moment’. It’s easy to see why, as one of the few films in cinemas which deals with a fictional pandemic.

It was simply coincidence or fate however, which lead Nikou to the subject of a pandemic. The film was shot before signs of Coronavirus had emerged and began to get serious, and any resemblance is purely by chance. In fact, overcoming the mysterious amnestic syndrome in the film is much more of a psychological challenge than a biological one. There doesn’t seem to be any effective physical treatments, let alone a vaccine. This film is more along the lines of ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’, dealing with the landscape of the mind rather than the realistic medical-based drama ‘Contagion’.

As the protagonists try to recreate new memories to replace the old ones, it becomes apparent the central question is whether we are all ultimately “simply the sum of all those things we don’t forget” as Nikou puts it. This high-concept philosophical premise is typical of the recent Greek weird wave. Nikou worked as Assistant director on ‘Dogtooth’ and has certainly drawn influence from Yorgos Lanthimos as well as Athina Rachel Tsangari.

As well as in its premise, Nikou’s work is recognizably similar in tone to both Lanthimos and Tsangari. There is a distinctive melancholic atmosphere in these films but they also contain elements of humour. In a heart-breaking scene of people dancing to Let’s Twist Again the main protagonist Aris (Aris Servetalis) displays his wildly eccentric moves. After dancing on his own he is complimented at the bar by his friend (and fellow amnesia sufferer) Anna (Sofia Georgovassili). It’s comically deadpan and serious, tragic and funny at the same time. Aris has been described by The Guardian as a combination of Daniel Day Lewis and Charlie Chaplin, based on his dance moves I can see why.

One visual theme which has emerged in Greek film, even before the ‘weird wave’, has been the use of unglamourous non-spaces. In Nikou’s film he shoots in abandoned swimming baths and forlorn city parks among others. Lanthimos explores this to great effect in ‘Alps’. Angelopoulos is also a master of the dead space in film. These are landscapes which reflect in the characters’ inner psychology and usually appear empty, forlorn and melancholic. They are a million miles away from the touristy version of Greece you see in airline Magazines or Mamma Mia.

A part of me wishes I could start building memories from scratch again like Aris, although that means I would forget ‘Apples’.

Let it Burn


Let it Burn is a powerful look at Parque Dom Pedro Hotel in the centre of São Paulo, Brazil. From 2013 – 2017 there was a doomed state project to house recovering addicts, criminals and homeless people in its rooms. A new mayor subsequently cancelled this philanthropic effort, which left many stranded.

Brazillian director Maira Bühler sensitively explores the lives of the hotel residents with intimate closeup footage. They appear to be at ease with the camera’s gaze in emotionally-charged scenes of love, friendship, addiction and despair. We hear talk of extreme poverty, abandonment and acts of violence. This film however, avoids the ‘poverty porn’ criticism which has plagued ‘City Of God’. There is no glamour here. Instead the realism shines through, when Bühler captures an extreme act of violence it is off-camera. We hear the noise, then we cut to the consequences – a woman crying over an unconscious body.

It is shocking how casually many at the Parque Dom Pedro Hotel talk about their experiences. With rampant stealing they are always on edge, a great number have completely lost touch with all relatives, and there is the constant shadow of crack addiction and dealers. This world feels a million miles away from the stylish adverts for French luxuries/beauty products they watch on TV. The contrast is stark. As the film progresses I began to acknowledge the allure of escape that crack offers, with many of the residents admitting this themselves. They seem to be all too aware of what draws them back time and time again.

Despite the pervasive presence of addiction, these characters do not come across as one-dimensional victims. At certain times their entangled dramas play out like a Greek tragedy. Half way through the film in an intense telephone breakup, a resident tearfully declares he ‘loves Maria and would do anything for her.’ He goes through a rollercoaster of emotions. We witness self-pity, begging, proposal (partially) and devastation. He then feels better when another woman waits for him to finish and kisses him, still declaring ‘Maria is the only one for me’. This is social observation with no obvious agenda, allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions.

As lockdown eases and we slowly return to a greater sense of normality, it’s important to remember the deprived communities which were worst affected by Coronavirus. Homlessness was eliminated in a matter of days here in the UK. The money and resources appear to have always been available to tackle this humanitarian problem.

A Girl at my Door


Living in small villages seems like a problematic kind of isolation, with few chances to meet new people and, more-often-than-not, limited recreational activities available. No wonder that with entertainment so lacking,,gossip and rumours spread easily. Indeed, everyone seems to know everything about everyone else in village life, whether it be in Korea, or remote rural Greece where my father now lives.

The village in A Girl At My Door is surrounded by beautiful countryside and the opening sequence gives us a vivid sense of place, driving through vast mountainous rural landscapes in the rain. We are then introduced to a cast of intriguing village characters, who get weirder and darker as we discover more about them. The surface beauty covers ugly secrets. A Girl at My Door has been produced by star-director Lee Chang-dong (Burning, Peppermint Candy) and is indeed similar to his film Poetry in its evocation of the hidden sins in a close-knit community.

I recently watched a Greek film with a very similar plot (Miracle on the Sargasso Sea). A female police chief from the big city is forced into a job in a small village where not all is as it seems. Both films put a distinctly feminine angle on this familiar trope, and both films certainly pass the Bechdel test, where two female characters talk to each other concerning something other than a man. A Girl At My Door also represents other cinematically overlooked groups, including three-dimensional LGBT characters, and the stigma they often still face outside multicultural, cosmopolitan areas (although, having never visted Korea, I don’t speak with experience of its culture). We also see immigrants being treated unfairly and the dangers of alcoholism.

A Girl At My Door is also an interesting study of how a village status quo is maintained, with economic chains that tie people together. Those at the top of the chain often acheive untouchable status (godfather style), and can even be above the law.  In this film, it takes an outsider police chief to disrupt this unhealthy entrenchment, which meant that local boss Park Yong-ha’s (Song Sae-byuk) criminal activities were ignored.

Yong-ha’s mistreated stepdaughter Do-hee is played by Kim Sae-ron in a confident performance that sees her helplessness morph into manipulation or hysteria in a heartbeat. In contrast, police chief Lee Young-nam (Bae Doona) is slightly more one-dimensional and projects the same steely, calm demenor throughout. I would have liked to have seen a more humanising emotional range in her. But this far from ruins the film, which is overall an impressive feature-length debut from director July Jung.


Seoul Station


Seoul Station was a surprising find on YouTube. It’s available full-length and for free and I recommend checking it out if you are stuck for something to watch in these times of lockdown. Zombie films seem to feel even more realistic and scary as we all hide away to avoid infection. It’s also an interesting reminder of director Yeon Sang-ho’s roots in animation (his first two features were animated: The King of Pigs in 2011, and The Fake two years later).

Intended as a prequel to smash-hit Train To Busan (Train to Busan was also directed by Yeon Sang-ho. Seoul Station was widely released after but, in fact, produced just before), the aptly titled Seoul Station is set at the outbreak of the epidemic which ravages Korea. The name refers to the apparent location of the first cases and early spread of the Zombie disease. Seoul Station was a place where the homeless found shelter. Indeed, the whole film focuses on the disenfranchised and those on the margins of society.

The main protagonist Hye-sun is a runaway sex worker struggling to provide for herself. We follow her attempt to reunite with boyfriend Ki-woong and father Ryu Seong-ryong as the infected wreak havoc on the city. There are echoes of Parasite – her solace in a luxurious apartment and the high-end kitchen knives used as weapons. The gap between the wealthy and deprived is stark.

As opposed to Train to Busan, Seoul Station is notably downbeat and muted. It’s perma-grey feels oppressive, gritty and tragic. This is certainly a story with less hope. Train to Busan had high-budget spectacle and a fundamental message of survival and renewall. The main protagonists in Seoul Station are not so lucky, nor so heroically self-sacrificing and perfect. Hye-sun, Ki-woong and Ryu Seong-ryong do not fare well in a universe where they were never well-off in the first place.

This has been refered to before as a social realist film, but since Coronavirus this comparison takes on a sharp new edge. It’s been widely acknowledged (and indeed published by the Office for National Statistics) that the poorest and most built-up areas are most at risk of contracting Covid-19. Well, the homeless at Seoul Station are the first to fall to Zombie infection.

The Hollywood Reporter describes the opening scene nicely:

“The film begins in front of Seoul Station’s terminus building, as a bloodied pensioner shuffles by and collapses. A fashionable young man, in the middle of telling his friend how he believes in universal healthcare, steps forward to look but then immediately retreats, saying he doesn’t need to intervene because the old man’s just a “stinky homeless guy.” Nobody else seems willing to help: As the dying man’s younger brother runs around for help, he is frowned at by social workers, denigrated by police officers and roughed up by hoodlums”.

Watch Seoul Station for free here

Uncut Gems


Over the past few years watching an Adam Sandler movie, for me, had simply become an exercise in Schadenfreude. I’m not usually a fan of the predominantly physical humor and funny voices that characterize his breakthrough roles in early films and on Saturday Night live, but I did detect some inventive energy in Sandler that made his oeuvre oddly engaging.

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but overtime he seems to have become a walking cliché. It’s as if the studios have offered him more and more money to abide by a strict formula which has limited any creativity. Most recently Netflix have extended his contract – worth millions – to keep making films like Murder Mystery, The Do-over and The Ridiculous 6. I’ve seen these films, and in each one Sandler looks dead behind the eyes, not to mention bored out of his mind. It must be irritating to have to repeat the same jokes over and over.

Perhaps then Uncut Gems is the film that Sandler looked forward to making. It’s an obvious departure from his usual style and a chance to put some serious work into a well-developed character. The first thing I noticed was his energy; he seemed to be enjoying the moment, and his talent for creating a likeable on-screen persona shone through. There were improvised funny moments, but they were woven into the fabric of a deeper character, rather than simply laughs for laughs sake.

This is reflected in the critical acclaim he has garnered for this film, with an unprecedented 92% on rotten tomatoes. Just to give you a comparison, The Ridiculous 6 scored 0%, The Do-over scored 10% and Murder Mystery 44% (all under the required 50% to be certified fresh). At the time of writing this he has also just won the best male lead at the Film Independent Spirit Awards. In his acceptance speech he seems to be humourously self aware. With the right material to work with, this certainly proves him to be a solid dramatic actor.


This post isn’t all about Sandler, however. The directors, the Safdie Brothers, are owed credit for creating an innovative black-comic thriller. Not unlike Sam Mendes’ 1917, Uncut Gems takes place over a very short period of time, thus ramping up the tension and pace. Sandler’s diamond dealer Howard Ratner is spinning several plates at once, trying to keep various debtors and creditors happy whilst orchestrating a mega-deal for an illegally imported Ethiopian opal stone. It’s chaos on a grand scale, but never seems convoluted. I am tempted to make a comparison between this and Christopher Nolan’s Inception in the scale and handling of the action.

The directors, of course, are also owed credit for creating the intriguing character of Howard Ratner. He exudes optimism and despite several setbacks, refuses to be fazed or scared. Even after his pivotal breakdown in the film, you get a sense that this is only temporary. The audience roots for a character like this, made all the more likeable and charming by Sandler.

I hope he will work with these directors again, and make a permanent move towards more serious material.

Almodóvar’s Madrid


The Telefonica building on Gran Via is seen in Papa’s view from her rooftop in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown as well as from El Palacio de la Prensa in The Flower of my Secret and from Chicote in Broken Embraces

For a director as prolific as Pedro Almodóvar it can be daunting to familiarise yourself with his canon. Exploding onto the film scene as part of La Movida Madrileña, (a counter-cultural movement that took place in Madrid following Franco’s death) the city of Madrid is essential to his work – along with a host of larger than life flamboyant characters, women at the end of their tether, gender and sexuality issues and a celebration of LGBT lives.

Spending some time in Madrid one can start to notice the aesthetic and open sexuality that permeate Almodóvar’s films. He has almost become a ‘Spanish brand’ and the vibrancy of the city is reflected in his films, initially most noticeable in the bright colour palette. His early work in particular is notable for comedic elements, with Alex Davidson (Sight and Sound) referring to him as ‘the most successful director of foreign language comedies in the English speaking world’. Almodóvar puts minorities into the foreground. Law of Desire, for example, sees a young gay murderer, a lovelorn porn director and his caring trans sister in major roles. The director has a talent for creating vibrant left-field characters which adds a surreal quality to his work.

2009 could be seen as a year of departure for Almodóvar. His work can be trickier to pigeon-hole after this time, including the Hitchcockian tale Broken Embraces, outrageous sex thriller The Skin I Live In, daft farce I’m So Excited! (reviewed by me earlier in this blog) and Chamber drama Julieta (reviewed in podcast form by Screen 101).  His latest work Pain & Glory which premiered at Cannes earlier this year has been compared to Fellini’s 8 1/2, and won Antonio Banderas the best actor prize – playing Almodóvar’s on-screen alter-ego. After re-examining Almodóvar’s work I certainly can’t wait to take a look at what will surely be an autobiographical gem, also described by Variety as ‘a kind of miracle’.

In the meantime, here are some sketches of the more arresting Almodóvar locations in Madrid……walking in the directors shoes for a day in the Spanish capital…


Plaza Mayor is the setting for Angel’s confession of love to Leo in The Flower of my Secret.


Frank Sinatra, Sophia Loren and Madrid bar-hopper Ernest Hemingway have all graced the famous ‘Museo Chicote’. Almodóvar used the bar as a setting in Broken Embraces (2009) – his character Blanca Portillo gulps down a large gin before revealing dark secrets to blind film-maker Lluís Homar and their love child Tamar Novas.



Netflix Anime

Attack on Titan

Netflix has always struck me as a place to discover hidden gems. Somehow I can’t help but feel sad that their content is set to go rapidly downhill when Disney pulls all their shows and films with the impending launch of their streaming platform in November. Netflix will find it difficult to keep up and will undoubtedly have to raise their subscription price.

‘Death-Note’ was a surprise success on the platform, and spawned a critically-panned US set original feature Death-Note which loosely followed the same plot. Personally I blame the time restrictive format for the bad reception, with not enough establishment given to the characters for the audience to fully appreciate the following cat-and-mouse game. The original Anime was all about unpicking the complex puzzles that adversaries L and Light Yagami set for each other, like a Sherlock Holmes set in a Japanese fantasy world.

From the creators of Death-Note comes another fantasy gem, Attack on Titan. Based on the manga of the same name, Attack on Titan repeats the same patterns as Death-Note. The audience unpicks the complex decisions of the main protagonists in a what-would-I-do situation. What gives this Anime an edge, for me, is that there seems to be so much more at stake. In season one humanity is literally on the brink of extinction. The gigantic humanoid ‘Titans’ have breached the outer wall of the last stronghold. These monsters are at the same time creepy and intriguing with vacant smiles on their faces as they wreak havoc and destruction. We later learn that humans hold no nutritional value for them, they are eating us for fun. The fight scenes are truly spectacular with humans developing mobile grappling technology to spin acrobatic circles around the Titans and cut them at the neck (similar to Spiderman swinging). The tension is masterful with most battles resulting in 100% human loss, the crippling fear of the Titans being palpable. Early on I genuinely had no idea whether it was even possible to win this war.

Most Animes I have seen on Netflix have amazing villains. Starting with Godzilla Japanese filmmakers have created enduring and horrific monsters. This has partly been attributed to the devastating impact of the nuclear bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The generations after truly understood what all-encompassing mayhem, death and destruction looked like with whole cities wiped off the map. There was also a wide sense of fear this could happen again. After speaking to a Japanese friend of mine, however, I discovered there is a more modern interpretation you can draw of the humanoid Titans in Attack on Titan – that they represent a more internal fear, of authoritarianism.

They certainly hold a morbid fascination for me and were the reason I wanted to watch more and more. As is the case with much Anime, the creators seem to invent almost random rules our heroes have to deal with. Some Titans are ‘abnormal’ for example, and can run faster or show more intelligence than normal. They can only be killed by slicing the nape of the neck, and so on. As I mentioned before, there is a pleasure in trying to outthink these ostensibly insurmountable obstacles. The Death-Note rules actually seem to make much more sense, as they were well-established from the beginning. The notebook (for those of you who don’t know, the supernatural notebook holds the power to kill anyone whose name is written in it) would be unusable without examples such as ‘you must picture the persons face when writing their name’, as people with the same name would all, in theory, die if this was not the case. In some ways this is why Death-Note works slightly better than Attack on Titan.

I also enjoyed One Punch Man  for exactly the same reasons as Attack on Titan. I didn’t watch it for One Punch Man himself, (it is obvious he was going to win every time), but I watched it for the crazier and crazier monsters that seem to appear out of nowhere and get stronger and stronger every time. One of my favourites was Super Custom, he loved building custom cars so much he decked himself out and became a custom car-loving monster.

Check it out, a nice alternative to Game of Thrones.



Loro is Paolo Sorrentino’s second film that explores the political landscape of his home country Italy, after the Cannes winning Il Divo. Il Divo starred the charismatic Tony Sevillo as corrupt prime minister Giulio Andreotti and displayed the typical stylish hallmarks which would later garner Sorrentino an Oscar for The Great Beauty. Punchy music, arresting visuals and an ambitious scope characterize both these films. But, although Loro is closer in subject matter to Il Divo, similar thematic links can be drawn to The Great Beauty.

The first thing that strikes me about the film is that we are not introduced to the main protagonist, Silvio Berlusconi (Tony Sevillo), until 30 minutes in. This not only builds his mystique, but seen through the eyes of characters who refer to Berlusconi as Lui, Lui (him, him) we get an insight into his overbearing influence. Berlusconi seems to be solely remarkable for his material achievements, rather than his personality. Indeed he is later portrayed as a small man with a weakness for young women, juvenile practical jokes and breast implants. However, to self-described ‘talent scout’ Sergio Morra (pictured above) who is an ambitious finder of beautiful women used in negotiations to secure lucrative government contracts – Berlusconi is the elusive prize. Indeed Sergio goes to great expense to rent a villa in Sardinia close to Berlusconi’s and hand-picks women to attend a staged ‘party’ to catch his eye. We get an idea of just how important Berlusconi is when the whole congregation silently stare in the direction of his villa, waiting for hours just to be noticed.

These initial party scenes are reminiscent of The Great Beauty. Sorrentino excels at stylistically capturing 21st Century hedonism – with thumping beats, dancing, drugs and excess – ‘a spectacle of bad taste’ as described by Henry K Miller in Sight & Sound. There is a particularly arresting visual moment when, to signal the party starting, hundreds of brightly coloured MDMA pills are thrown into the air. Sorrentino lingers on this slow-motion shot whilst a narrator describes the neurological affects of the drug. Nudity, partying and indeed ‘bad taste’ continue throughout the film.

The same contrast exists here as it does in The Great Beauty. Hard-won human achievements taking time and real effort, vs the transience of excess and hedonism. This is never more poignant than in one of the final scenes at Berlusconi’s villa where Sergio is finally asked to stage a party. Of course, he invites the full congregation of beautiful women. A 20 year old aspiring actress, Stella, who seems uncomfortable catches Berlusconi’s eye. She is the only one who doesn’t laugh at his jokes. She seems to surprise him with the line ‘I can’t do this, it’s all so pathetic’. This dignified and unattainable woman is the one Berlusconi wants, and can never get. She does not fit into the category of superficial beauty. Suddenly the empty reality hits home.

Again, this contrast is evident when Berlusconi’s wife leaves him. Throughout the film she pleads to visit the stunning temples of Cambodia, criticizes his TV channels for bloated advertisements and no intelligent programming, and accuses him of having limited cultural horizons in comparison to the Fiat magnate owner of Juventus Gianni Agnelli, who commissioned a portrait from Francis Bacon. In some ways this failure to appreciate cultural beauty ended up being Berlusconi’s downfall. I felt compassion for Sergio by the end of the film. Never managing to kindle friendship with Berlusconi and enter his circle, he melancholically proclaims that ‘they [loro in Italian] are smarter than us’. Not sure if this is the case, Sergio.

Eighth Grade


In Director Bo Burnham I feel like I’m witnessing another Jordan Peele rise. Again, this is a filmmaker with a background in sketch comedy who, with his debut feature Eighth Grade, seems to have already made a significant contribution to film culture. Indeed, Barak Obama has named Eighth Grade one of his favourites of 2018, and I can see why.

Eighth Grade avoids many of the usual coming-of-age tropes. The film is imbued with a remarkable authenticity. This isn’t comedy on the scale of Mean Girls with surreal cut scenes and popularity wars, instead the focus is on Kayla Day’s last week in middle school and the battle to discover herself. Burnham takes joy from small triumphs against a tidal wave of “cool” conformity. He has created an excellent character in Kayla Day who isn’t insecure enough to abandon her lamer interests. Whilst watching I certainly started to remember what life was like at that age and the process of building my personality. I was also somewhat surprised to find myself relating to a 13 year old girl.

Part of this authenticity comes from Elsie Fisher’s mesmerising turn as Kayla. There was a groundedness to her performance that was refreshing to see from an actress her age. She was adept at realistically conveying the awkward interactions which provided dry humour throughout. Many of these interactions revolved around her dad, Mark Day played by Josh Hamilton. This was a character I had sympathy for, a dad that dealt with his daughter with goofy good humour despite her efforts to push him away. He provided something of a moral anchor too, and was instrumental in Kayla’s closing revelations.

Burnham initially gained a following through comedy videos on Youtube. I’m not surprised then, that the film also provides insightful commentary into social media lives. After she was voted ‘quietest in school’ Kayla’s Youtube video tips on topics such as “being yourself” or “putting yourself out there”  are a reminder of the contrast between appearance and reality. Social media certainly highlights the anxiety of school but it also allows Kayla to discover who she is. It almost feels like the audience isn’t important in these videos, what’s more important is her freedom of self-expression. This is no more evident than in the final scene when she leaves a heartfelt video message to her eighteen year old self, ‘if you don’t have a boyfriend, that’s ok’, ‘if high school was bad for you, that’s ok too’.

Just like in Us, the score here is particularly good, with loud, brash techno music amplifying the horrendous nerves Kayla feels when she sets eyes on her crush in school. There are also some hugely engaging montages of Instagram surfing, working well with tracks like Enya’s “Orinoco Flow”. I can’t wait to see what Burnham does next. This could be one of the first of the Youtube generation to master cinema.