Film reviews: Another Round | Freaky | My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell it To | Last Man Standing

Winner of this year’s Oscar for best international feature, Another Round reunites Danish director Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt) with Mads Mikkelsen for a tragicomic midlife crisis movie about a group of teachers who decide to get themselves out of their respective ruts by keeping themselves in a permanent state of inebriation.

Mads Mikkelsen in Another Round
Mads Mikkelsen in Another Round

Mikkelsen plays Martin, a former academic superstar gradually waking up to the fact that his comfortably dull existence as a high school history teacher with a nice house and indifferent family is a far cry from the exceptional life he once imagined for himself. His colleagues Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Peter (Lars Ranthe) and Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) are experiencing the same kind of middle-aged malaise so, when Nikolaj tells them about a theory he’s read that suggests humans are born with a natural alcohol deficiency in their bloodstreams they decide to top themselves up with booze on a daily basis to see if the inhibition-free buzz of a night out can be sustained all week. In other words, to get out of their funk they decide to get drunk — and soon they’re the life and soul of the classroom, inspiring their students with their newfound joie de vivre while supping from vodka-filled water bottles. Mercifully, what follows as their own ludicrously imposed rules fail to prevent their experiment from spinning out of control (which is what happens when you naively imagine Ernest Hemingway’s drinking habits might offer some kind of model for responsible boozing) isn’t some dreary addiction parable. It’s more of a sly tale about the dumb things people do to feel alive in a world in which sleepwalking towards old age can too easily become the default option. There’s not much more to the film than this, but the juxtaposition of Mikkelsen’s soul-deep performance with the youthful exuberance of his students offers a poignant reminder of the speed with which life can wear you down. The final image of Mikkelsen dancing amongst them gives the film a melancholic edge that is oddly affecting.

A horror comedy in which a teenage girl and a serial killer switch places, Freaky lives up to the promise of its title in ways that go beyond its twisted conceptual homage to Disney’s Freaky Friday and the Friday the 13th franchise (you just know “Freaky Friday the 13th” was the pitch). As a Jason-style homicidal maniac known locally as the “the Blissfield Butcher”, Vince Vaughn is on amusingly playful form after unwittingly trading places with his latest victim, Millie (Kathryn Newton), a sweet and nerdy high school misfit used to being picked on by popular kids and faculty members alike. Needless to say, it’s not long before the Butcher gives this shy teen a sociopathic confidence boost as she/he starts starts the process of reinvention by offing tormentors in gleefully grisly ways.

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Meanwhile Millie, now in the body of the Butcher, has to convince her BFFs (Misha Osherovich and Celeste O’Connor) that he/she's not really a killer in order to help her reverse the curse, get her own body back and stop the carnage. Co-writer/director Michael Landon (Happy Death Day) has plenty of fun playing around with all the Scream-style meta connections – at one point Vaughn wryly sends up his own association with Norman Bates in Gus Van Sant’s Psycho remake –and he delights, too, in having his savvy cast embrace the subversive gender and queer politics thrown up by the premise. The result is a gruesome delight.

There’s more horror in My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To, a sombre riff on classic vampire lore. Though its expressive title hints at the lurid pulpiness of an Italian giallo film, this has more in common with the downbeat mood of something like George Romero’s addiction-themed vampire movie Martin or the chilly Swedish coming-of-age vampire horror Let the Right One In.

The story centres on siblings Dwight (Patrick Fugit) and Jesse (Ingrid Sophie Schram) and their efforts to care for the their younger brother Thomas (Owen Campbell), who requires a steady supply of human blood to survive. Debut director Jonathan Cuartas uses the genre elements to examine the sometimes debilitating bonds of family and while the relentlessly oppressive atmosphere can be a little hard to take, there’s real artistry here.

With Last Man Standing, Nick Broomfield returns to the subject of his 2002 documentary Biggie & Tupac to offer further testimony to back up the earlier film’s discredited theory that Death Row Records supremo Suge Knight not only conspired to have both rappers killed but colluded with corrupt LA cops to murder Biggie Smalls. With Knight currently serving 28 years for manslaughter, lips are a little looser than they were when Broomfield first investigated the murders – something the filmmaker jumps on to disrupt the dominant narrative that Biggie’s shooting was gang-related. Although it’s difficult to verify how reliable his new witnesses are given the amount of time that has passed, the film paints a thoroughly damning portrait of Knight’s rancid life and toxic business empire, with Tupac’s transformation from socially conscious teen activist to misogynistic gangster-wannabe proving especially depressing.

Another Round, Freaky and Last Man Standing are on general release from 2 July; My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To is available on digital download now.

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