The Hunt (aka Jagten): a nursery teacher’s life is pulled from beneath him when one of his very young students falsely accuses him of a sexual act. The film has a highly naturalistic, almost documentary-style (think Dogme 95) which creates a very realistic world and really gives you the impression that this could be any guy in this position. Being in almost every frame, the film puts a lot of stock in to Mads, but it pays off as he delivers an absolute powerhouse performance – he’s an everyman, but not like the other men around, and we see enough of him to empathise with his new fate. The middle act is particularly moving & emotional, and feels like a critique of the “guilty until proven innocent” society we live in at the moment. It’s even more interesting re-watching this through the 2017 ‘scandal of the week’ lens in this post-Weinstein abuse era. There are some very tough scenes like child counselor meeting and Lucas trying in vain to reason with his closest family and friends. Raw, emotional and affecting, The Hunt is a modern classic, and will no doubt be one of Mikkelsen and Vinterberg’s career highlights, no matter what else they go on to do.
El topo: a surreal wild-west-type cowboy tale that’s heavy on the religious symbolism and appeared to have been conceived (& filmed) whilst on all of the drugs. The biggest thing this film has going for it is reel after reel of top-shelf insanity and phenomenal imagery: attempting to put some of the scenes into words wouldn’t do them justice – but suffice to say that the locations, landscapes, characters, and overall visuals are absolutely remarkable. Beyond the aesthetics, the rest of the film feels like a hodgepodge of themes, styles, and ideas. The tone continually bounces around from jarring “Texas Chainsaw” style, straight into to a Russ Meyers type shoe-sniffer: from po-faced religious moments through to Blazing Saddles levels of stupidity. It’s also – unfortunately – a film of two halves, that gets tangled up after the initial “mission” and really loses the head of steam (and patience) that the first have had built up. The foley work is particularly terrible – the film is shot outdoors, but most of the speech and effects appear to have been recorded in a boxy echo chamber. There’s also a lot of violent (although reddest blood ever) and exploitative stuff in here too, like the misuse of religion, lesbians, and midgets & disabled people for no real reason. Bizarre and easily one of the strangest & most overlooked cult movies ever made, El Topo is the most peculiar of beasts, that’s only worth watching for it’s sublime and visionary aesthetic.
The Love Witch: a modern-day witch is testing her potions on handsome men in a quest to find true love. I don’t think I’ve seen a more accurate and loving homage to retro-cinema… the saturated colours, audio fidelity, camera techniques, soundtrack, editing, clothes, lighting, stilted dialogue, and general B-movie tackiness… it’s all there, and it’s all immaculate; to the point where it’s difficult to accurately date. There’s also no other way to describe the fantastical / surreal / dreamlike / kitschy aesthetic than a “luscious eyegasm”. It is, however, disappointing that the actual content of the film is wafer thin: there’s a lot of super-shallow and tedious “but what IS love” type chatting and, more generally, it sticks far too rigidly to the 60s B-movie structure without adding or updating a single point. Picking up a 15-rating, it’s also a touch on the timid side for what could (and should?) have been a great gore-fest or sexploitation romp. The final complaint is that – although it’s absolutely gorgeous – the film is 30-minutes too long: the entire final act (renaissance fair / musical numbers) really tries the viewers patience. I’m not 100% sure it’s the feminist piece it’s being championed as (it’s a mental woman on a killing spree) but I will say that this is pure catnip for goth/burlesque/alternative people. The Love Witch is a film that puts everything in to its style and vision; leaving the rest of the film feeling slight… although blimey Charlie, it doesn’t half look beautiful.
Aftermath [mild spoilers]: follows two men after a fatal airplane collision that changes their lives forever. The film starts with a relentlessly grim and drawn-out opening act in which both leads deal with the shock of their situation, frequently tipping over into forced melodrama; it’s all very burdensome and somber. Where the film really fails to deliver is after a 70 minute gloomy setup; the ‘climactic payoff’ is far too brief, and then we get a post-script ‘years later’ scene that you could see coming a mile off. Stylistically, the film is equally austere, with a grayed out colour palate; it starts at Christmas for no real reason than to crank up the sorrow-o-meter; and contains some rather clunky imagery & parallels between the leads’ lives. Strangely, the movie takes a powerful real-life story and changes core elements that ultimately lessens the story’s impact in the fictionalized movie version. I’m a huge Arnie fan – and think he’s a better actor than he’s generally given credit for – however this film asks a little too much of him: there are moments where you can see him struggle with the emotions. Scoot McNairy is rather good, but doesn’t get a lot of gears to change through. From the director of Bltiz (a solid police action/drama) the lack of action and tunneled focus on tragedy feels like a huge – but just-missed – leap. Aftermath is by no means a bad film, but it is a very heavy film about a very heavy subject that you’d need to be in a particular mood to watch.
Swiss Army Man: a marooned man befriends a washed-up corpse, who turns out to be very useful for getting them back home in one piece. Both leads are very strong; Radcliffe turns in a superb physical performance paired with equally strong deadpan comic delivery. Paul Dano is also great to watch, but feels more like he’s cruising in his typecast weirdo role. Together, they have undeniably fun ‘bromance’ chemistry that really elevates the film. Tonally, “eclectic” doesn’t do this film justice: it’s creepy, uplifting, strange, beautiful, depressing, funny, weird, innocent, unique, entertaining, and batshit crazy – all at the same time. It shifts and shimmies between all of its quirky ideas so quickly that it stops you even thinking about how and why all of the surreal things are able to happen. It like the kind weird films you’d have expected to come out of Japan in the early 2000s, and most resembles cinematic oddities like Rubber, Happiness of the Katakuris, and a little bit of Be Kind Rewind. It feels like the filmmakers were really wanted to bring up some observations about our modern values and way of living… but because of all the farting, trouser compassing, and fart-based jet skiing & flying the film ends up avoiding any deep or meaningful insights altogether, coming across as superficial a ‘pop philosophy 101’ class. Swiss Army Man is truly a film like no other, and one which defies categorization; and it really does need to be seen to be believed… however, it does feel more like a collection of individually ‘cool’ ideas, jokes, and moments that would be better suited to a barnstorming music video, or more focused, upbeat, and magical short film.
Strike Back: Vengeance (Season 3) – when a billionaire acquires four nuclear triggers in order to re-shape Africa, only section 20 can stop him. Continuing with the UK/US collaboration, this takes everything that worked about ‘Project Dawn’ and made it all bigger/louder/better. Every episode is wall to wall action; with dozens of set pieces, hundreds of deaths, and a load of whiz-bang sex scenes. The entire season is 100mph, and it’s simply great fun. The characters feel more rounded, the leads’ chemistry is fantastic, and it’s very professionally made – but things like ‘character development’, ‘plot’, and ‘direction‘ are background noise to the explosions, gunfights, stunt driving, and spec ops that march the show forward. It’s hard to believe that such a ridiculously intense level of action (huge set pieces every 10 mins or so) can be done on a TV budget – the 10 episodes are paired off into FIVE 90-minute long mini missions that run together. In a world of toned down and heavily edited 12-rated action films, the swearing, sex, and sensational action makes this feel like something from ‘the good old days’. Completely knowing, and aimed directly at young male action fans, Strike Back Vengeance is a show that only really does one thing (infinite ammo, high-octane action turned up to 11), but does it brilliantly – making it a truly unmissable show for action fans