a-ha: The Movie (Thomas Robsahm/Aslaug Holm, 2021)

American YouTube reviewer Todd in the Shadows has a regular series called One Hit Wonderland in which he takes a look “at bands and artists known for only one song”; exploring their history before and after the big hit. His first video in this series was on Norwegian synth-pop group a-ha’s ‘Take On Me’, in which he fully acknowledges that a-ha’s members are absolutely not true one hit wonders just because ‘Take On Me’ was their only enduring hit in the United States.

The band has reportedly sold over 55 million records worldwide. They’re among the best-selling Scandinavian acts ever. A 1991 gig at the Rock in Rio festival earned them a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for drawing the largest paying rock concert attendance (198,000). They still fill stadiums. They did a James Bond theme.

But Todd’s criteria for inclusion isn’t entirely inaccurate. It’s not controversial to call ‘Take On Me’ one of the best pop songs of the 1980s, while the accompanying music video by director Steve Barron justifiably remains a titan of the form. No matter the sales figures of subsequent singles and albums, ‘Take On Me’ inarguably defines a-ha’s legacy…

Full review for Little White Lies

Firestarter (Keith Thomas, 2022)

During filming of The Thing in 1981, Universal offered John Carpenter the gig to direct a movie version of Stephen King’s novel Firestarter, about a pyrokinetic girl on the run from a secret government agency with her also super-powered father. After The Thing underperformed financially, Universal dropped Carpenter, replacing him with Mark L. Lester for the perhaps overly faithful 1984 adaptation that King reportedly hated.

Carpenter got his own swing at King for another studio with Christine. And four decades on, he’s now involved with a new take on the one that got away. His score for the 2022 Firestarter, co-written with Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies, is by far the best part of director Keith Thomas’ adaptation of a text that no one can quite seem to crack…

Full review for SciFiNow

Men (Alex Garland, 2022)

Alex Garland’s Men shares DNA with David Bruckner’s recent Rebecca Hall-led The Night House. Both see widowed women navigating an isolated haunted house, each also concerned with the fallout of a husband’s suicide, that trauma weaved into the thematic underpinning.

But while Hall’s character is plagued in her own home, Men’s Harper (Jessie Buckley) is on a solo vacation in the English countryside. Another crucial difference: The Night House’s instigating suicide is presented as sudden, but in Men, Harper both witnesses husband James’ (Paapa Essiedu) apparent jump from their building and is explicitly told he’ll take his own life if they divorce, in an explosive flashback confrontation involving assault – where cinematographer Rob Hardy lights their apartment in appropriately fiery hues…

Full review for SciFiNow

Vikings don’t cry: Thomas Daneskov on his off-grid comedy ‘Wild Men’

Dark comedy Wild Men opens in wintry Norwegian mountains, their visual majesty disrupted by a soundtrack of sobbing. Cut to a man, draped in furs and carrying a bow and arrow, crying his eyes out. Pulling himself together, he tries catching a ram in nearby woods. He appears to wound it, but it escapes. Unable to find further prey, he clubs a frog to death, cooking it that night. The next morning, he’s throwing up. 

Then, this apparent Viking finds a chocolate bar wrapper that’s floated upstream, revealing that we’re not in fact watching a period piece in the vein of Robert Eggers’ The Northman (2022). The man journeys to a gas station, attempting to buy groceries and cigarettes but forgetting his debit card.

This is Denmark resident Martin (Rasmus Bjerg), a husband and father who, experiencing a midlife crisis, has abandoned his family to live in a huge Norwegian forest, adhering as closely as possible to the lifestyle of his ancestors a thousand-plus years ago. It’s only been 10 days in the wilderness, and wife Anne (Sofie Gråbøl) still thinks he’s just away on a work trip…

Full interview for the BFI

Director Laura Wandel Discusses Her Schoolyard Drama ‘Playground’

Premiering to acclaim at Cannes in 2021, Playground, the full-length debut of Belgian writer-director Laura Wandel, deservedly later won the Best First Feature award at the London Film Festival.

Running at only 72 minutes, it’s a compact, confident work, with creative visual and aural devices impressively realised throughout. The film’s images are conveyed entirely from a child’s point of view, the camera’s position staying at the height of its young lead (Maya Vanderbeque). Meanwhile, the soundtrack lacks any musical score, and reflects only what the protagonist can hear from her perspective…

Full interview for Curzon Journal

The Northman (Robert Eggers, 2022)

With The Witch and The Lighthouse, writer-director Robert Eggers emerged as a distinctive voice in American independent film. They are surrealistic nightmares set in America of centuries past, in which small groups try surviving encroaching supernatural threats that may well be hallucinations encouraged by harsh surroundings. Their environments are brought to life with an exquisite sense of historical detail and period-accurate language.

In light of this, that Eggers’ third feature, The Northman, is a big studio-backed, sprawling Europe-set epic that can plausibly, and not inaccurately, be marketed as an action movie might raise red flags for those concerned his voice could be lost – budget-wise, it’s closer to a Morbius than The Witch. But praise the Norse gods, for not only is The Northman an exhilarating revenge saga that outdoes most modern blockbusters when it comes to action sequence staging and immersive sound design, but Eggers’ penchant for the strange remains fully intact…

Full review for SciFiNow

Neil Maskell, Paul Andrew Williams talk ‘Bull’

Following his BAFTA-nominated breakthrough feature London to Brighton (2006), writer-director Paul Andrew Williams dabbled in horror-comedy and thriller territory with The Cottage (2008) and Cherry Tree Lane (2010). Then came a fairly surprising switch to inspirational drama with Song for Marion (2012), the sweet tale of a grumpy pensioner honouring his recently deceased wife’s passion for performance by joining her former local choir. Williams has kept producing films and directing television – including Broadchurch, A Confession and The Eichmann Show – but Bull is his first feature as director to play on the big screen in nearly a full decade.

It’s a striking return to the mode of film he first broke out with, while also expanding his palette with a slippery, supernatural edge to proceedings. British character actor favourite Neil Maskell takes centre stage as the eponymous Bull, who returns to his home town after a decade’s absence. Once an enforcer, he’s seeking violent revenge on former gangster associates, including David Hayman’s Norm and Tamzin Outhwaite’s Sharon, who double-crossed him all those years back.

With Bull out now, we chat to Andrew Williams and Maskell about the thriller and the current state of British independent film…

Full interview for VODzilla.co

The Outfit (Graham Moore, 2022)

Seven years after winning a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for The Imitation Game, writer Graham Moore follows up that biopic with an original, largely effective thriller. Co-written with Johnathan McClain, The Outfit is also Moore’s feature-directing debut…

Full review for Little White Lies

IberoDocs: 2022 festival preview

As with basically every UK arts festival in the first five months of 2021, the eighth edition of IberoDocs – Scotland’s main showcase for documentary works from Spanish, Portuguese and Latin-American filmmakers – went fully online in light of lockdowns. For the ninth edition, in-person events in Edinburgh and Glasgow are back on the cards, but lessons from last time haven’t been completely abandoned.

Between 6 and 10 April there will be screenings at those cities’ participating venues, while between 11 and 17 April a selection of the festival programme will move online and be available across the UK. There’ll be one online-exclusive in the form of Bolingo: The Forest of Love – a documentary exploring the journey undertaken by women migrants from the heart of Africa to northern Morocco, searching for the ‘European dream’. Additional accessibility will also come via a number of post-film Q&As featuring BSL interpretation…

Full feature for The Skinny

Lucie Zhang: ‘The nudity was like wearing a costume’

With Paris, 13th District, director Jacques Audiard adapts three short stories by American cartoonist Adrian Tomine, merging them into a sharp, sweet portrait of sex, love and endurance in a Parisian high-rise neighbourhood. The ensemble includes Noémie Merlant, Makita Samba and Jehnny Beth, alongside Lucie Zhang in a star-making turn with her debut feature film role. She plays Émilie, a French-Taiwanese twentysomething with a flair for chaos…

Full interview for Little White Lies

Writing by Josh Slater-Williams